BOOK REVIEW: Eleanor Oliphant made me reflect on my own loneliness
And my relationship with peanut butter.
It was crowned Book of the Year at the British Book Awards last year, it’s also a New York Times Bestseller and Reese Witherspoon bought the film rights. This is completely cool because it was author Gail Honeyman’s book debut.
I just finished reading the book, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I can’t remember the last time I cried reading a book but the end was emotional for so many different reasons. Plus I think my periods are due.
It’s one of those books that became somewhat of a sensation with all the women in my life urging me to read it. I think the same thing happened with Fifty Shades, Twilight and Gone Girl, so at the risk of not being able to contribute to literary conversations again, I popped it on my Kindle and made a point of finishing it.
It took me a while though. Sure it was funny in all the right ways but there wasn’t a lot of action or climax moments. This made it a little slower to get through but was totally my problem because stunt work wouldn’t have made any sense. The girl was a lonely misfit and a raging binge drinker battling with PTS and depression. She couldn’t be scaling buildings and participating in high-speed car chases too. That’d be too much.
Written in first person, straight-shooting and unfiltered from the lens of Eleanor Oliphant herself, the observational humour is dry and completely on point:
“One of the designers was finishing up today – as usual we’d be marking the occasion with cheap wine and expensive beer, crisps dumped in cereal bowls.”
See. Classic relatable office humour.
The only thing is, it was often hard to know whether to laugh, cry or cringe. Because while she nails the awkwardness of unavoidable interactions with dreary humans – co-workers you hope trip over, taxi drivers who ask how you are out of habit, doctors with social skills like potatoes – she’s also the kind of person you desperately want to help at the same time as feeling totally repelled by. I have to assume it would stir these conflicting emotions in all of us.
She’s totally bananas and she’s far from fine, but it’s enthralling to see the world how she does. Readers are taken on a journey where the condition of loneliness is addressed from the POV of this clearly disturbed character, which makes the approach to the topic original and insightful.
For anyone who experiences any sort of loneliness – and we all have – you’ll find the story relatable in one way or another. Even if I hadn’t ever spent endless weeknights binging on straight vodka like Miss Oliphant, I did find myself battling with an unhealthy relationship with peanut butter this last year. It’s okay if you laughed because having any sort of “relationship” with a sandwich spread is amusing, but it’s true, I was binge eating crushed peanuts for 12 months.
I lived alone in London in 2018. Well, I had a plant and a mouse that’d peeping Tom every so often. But it wasn’t as if I didn’t socialise. Loneliness doesn’t depend on the number of friends or relationships or interactions you have. It comes down to feeling emotionally and/or socially connected. This means that even married people can feel lonely. I was just feeling a bit unheard and misunderstood in various friendships.
The most interesting thing about loneliness – and I saw this as I tried to figure out my own – is that it can be contagious. My mental state was pushing me to the periphery of my social network, in turn passing on a certain level of alienation to my friends. Being pushed away from people, whatever the cause, whoever it comes from, can have serious impact on your mental state. And thoughts can be dangerous.
I didn’t have chronic loneliness and it’s not like I wasn’t able to rise above my thoughts and still cha-cha on Fridays. But I wasn’t happy. Going through this sort emotional downer really helps you understand how people can easily go from emotional isolation to much deeper states of despair. It’s a big mind game and if you don’t have the neurological foundations to be able to talk some sense into yourself, well, this is when people resort to means of comfort more drastic than tubs of crunchy peanut butter. Here’s an article on Psychology Today about ways to prevent loneliness from becoming depression.
Just try to keep an open mind about everyone’s various levels of mental suffering. And whether it’s that ‘weirdo’ at work who eats peanut butter sandwiches and barely says boo, or someone you love who is acting kind of crazy. We are only starting to really understand and acknowledge mental health, so jump on the bandwagon and accept that we all need support and rationalising with sometimes.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is an easy read. It’s hugely entertaining and gets you thinking about people and life from a unique perspective.