The narrative voice in this story reaches out and grabs hold of you right away. Eleanor Oliphant, somehow managing to feel totally real. Her inner experience and narration of the world around her, both prompting the reader to laugh uproariously out loud, as well as cringe from time to time in empathetic embarrassment for her, and to feel ones heart swelling with empathy for this young woman who seems to be in some significant pain, as well as has grown rather shut off from the world.
Its about time we came out with more books about the awkward loner, the person (we all know them) at work or school who is strange and stiff- though of whom we know nothing beyond our barest impression of, and that possibly, they might even be quite sad or struggling behind the simple, one dimensional facade we see at work.
This book is both an empathy inducing and hilariously fun read. Who would’ve thought those two themes could coexist so beautifully? But they do.
Initially we arent sure if Eleanor is blunt and awkward because its just her personality, potentially coupled with some kind of disorder, or if this stems from a trauma in her past. With hints along the way, the reader comes to understand that it might be a bit of both.
That aside, while Eleanor is harsh at times, she is equally observant, sometimes quite insightful, as well as incredibly hilarious. She says the things that many of us think, though dont chose to say for the rudeness and shock that would result.
Here, a few of those very gems to get you laughing today:
—“No thank you,” I said. “I don’t want to accept a drink from you, because then I would be obliged to purchase one for you in return, and I’m afraid I’m simply not interested in spending two drinks’ worth of time with you.”
—“But, by careful observation from the sidelines, I’d worked out that social success is often built on pretending just a little. Popular people sometimes have to laugh at things they don’t find very funny, do things they don’t particularly want to, with people whose company they don’t particularly enjoy. Not me. I had decided, years ago, that if the choice was between that or flying solo, then I’d fly solo.”
—“I find lateness exceptionally rude; it’s so disrespectful, implying unambiguously that you consider yourself and your own time to be so much more valuable than the other person’s.”
—“I had to google “mofo” and must confess to being slightly alarmed by the result.”
—“Did men ever look in the mirror, I wondered, and find themselves wanting in deeply fundamental ways? When they opened a newspaper or watched a film, were they presented with nothing but exceptionally handsome young men, and did this make them feel intimidated, inferior, because they were not as young, not as handsome? Did they then read newspaper articles ridiculing those same handsome men if they gained weight or wore something unflattering?” (This passage is more emotionally moving, vulnerable, and insightful, as opposed to funny).
—“There was nothing to tempt me from the choice of desserts, so I opted instead for a coffee, which was bitter and lukewarm. Naturally, I had been about to pour it all over myself but, just in time, had read the warning printed on the paper cup, alerting me to the fact that hot liquids can cause injury. A lucky escape, Eleanor! I said to myself, laughing quietly. I began to suspect that Mr. McDonald was a very foolish man indeed, although, judging from the undiminished queue, a wealthy one.”
—“Men like Raymond, pedestrial dullards, would always be distracted by women who looked like her, having neither the wit nor the sophistication to see beyond mammaries and peroxide.”
This is a great read. Both, for the eye opening and empathy inviting thoughts the story offers up, for the lens offered into a persons life which is quite sad and rather empty. Her weekends consisting of takeout and getting smashed on whole bottles of vodka, completely and utterly alone.
Though, eventually Eleanor does stumble upon some interesting hi-jinks and opportunities which invite her more towards the life she might like to live, both emotionally and externally. This is where the major character growth and shifts begin occurring.
And while Eleanor enjoys her own company like many introverts, she also longs for some semblance of closeness with even just one other, on the occasions she might like such. Introverts may relish their alone time, but all of us would like to have even just one meaningful connection in our lives.
This aloneness and emptiness of what can be a persons life is one we haven’t stumbled much upon in stories available as of late, and one on which there should be light shed. The next time you look at someone, in work or school, who seems quiet, awkward, strange, nervous, you might find yourself not so quick to judge them negatively or with revulsion, instead, inclined towards a bit more kindness.
And further, this book is just great fun to read. Gifting the reader with an incredibly unique and engaging narrator, one of the better ones in popular fiction to have come along in quite some time.