Home alone

Annie Samson
Saturday, 19 October 2019

Eleanor, in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, is quite the oddball. Nearing 30, she has been working since she was 21 at the same graphic design firm as a finance accounting clerk. Her routine is identical every day from Monday to Friday at work.

Loneliness and solitude are not two sides of the same coin. As German philosopher Paul Tillich puts it, loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone. 

Eleanor, in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, is quite the oddball. Nearing 30, she has been working since she was 21 at the same graphic design firm as a finance accounting clerk. Her routine is identical every day from Monday to Friday at work. She takes a one-hour lunch break daily in the staffroom to read the newspaper cover to cover and solve crosswords, and then at close of the day takes the bus home.

Only on Friday, does she deviate from her fixed routine by popping into the big store near her home to get pizzas and two big bottles of vodka, which she consumes over the weekend, making sure that she is neither drunk nor sober. She calls up and talks to her institutionalised mother every week.

To top it because she doesn’t know why people act the way they do, she is totally blunt — a “weirdness” that earns her the sobriquet “mental” from her co-workers.

Sample this, Eleanor walks into a department store to buy a cell phone and doesn’t comprehend why the salesman questions her about her preferences of make and model. “I simply need to purchase some sort of computer equipment that I can use in the comfort of my own home in order to conduct some internet-based research. I may in time send electronic messages from it. That is all. Do you have something suitable in stock?”

It is clear by now that Eleanor’s social skills are quite poor. Not just that, she brings out an awkwardness, which I am sure most people, at least introverts would have faced in social dos. Again, her behaviour just reveals an isolated upbringing.

With her quaint character traits, Eleanor endears herself to the reader who cheers for her from the sidelines as she goes about her life which, is divided into the Before and the After. The mystery incident, a trauma, which I am not going to reveal here, acts as a reference for her. She refers to it as before and after. It, perhaps is an answer to why the author, Gail Honeyman, gave the book such a riveting name.

She finds herself in new situations and her life begins to change gradually. She makes a new friend at work with whom one day she saves the life of an elderly stranger, who has fallen down on the sidewalk and all three learn to climb out of the life of isolation they have fallen into.

Writing about loneliness, Olivia Lang, who has authored the book The Lonely City says: “It is hallmarked by an intense desire to bring the experience to a close; something which cannot be achieved by sheer willpower or by simply getting out more, but only by developing intimate connections... Loneliness is accretive, extending and perpetuating itself. Once it becomes impacted, it is by no means easy to dislodge.”

Long after you finish Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, you find yourself chuckling at Eleanor’s way of looking at things. Sensitive, practical and wanting to purchase perfumes which smell of new pencil shavings!

Eleanor Oliphant is on her way to becoming completely fine and Gail Honeyman doesn’t spoil this original story with a predictable romance. I hear there is a Hollywood movie in the works based on the book.

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