Books: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
“These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way.”
It perhaps comes as no surprise that as a mental health professional, a fictional book about loneliness, trauma and self discovery appeals to me; but I think there’s so much more to this story than that.
“It wasn’t that I needed anyone. I was, as I had mentioned, perfectly fine.”
I write this review as both psychiatrist and human being, having come across this tale many months ago I have now re-read it several times over and dare I say it, I love it.
The story is about Eleanor Oliphant. A young woman living her life in the only way she knows, in relative isolation, who abides by set routines day to day and who experiences various difficulties in social situations. The only human contact she has outside of her limited interactions with colleagues at work, is a weekly telephone call from her mother somewhat sinisterly referred to as ‘Mummy’ throughout the book.
“When the silence and the aloneness press down and around me, crushing me, carving through me like ice, I need to speak aloud sometimes, if only for proof of life.”
Everything changes however when she meets Raymond, an ordinary, bumbling and somewhat unhygienic individual from the IT department at her place of work. Therein strikes a wonderful friendship, the kind that is not quite realised by our protagonist until much later on.
From a psychological point of view, the author does a fantastic job of setting the scene and planting clues throughout the book in relation to Eleanor’s troubled past. The scars on her face, the odd and quite frankly manipulative mother, the imbalance in power between parent and child, the abusive physical relationship she once had with another man, the occasional visit from a social worker who has no role yet continues to visit year on year, her use of alcohol as a way to deal with certain difficult emotions, the transient delusional or fixed belief she develops about a famous singer, her relatively quick deterioration to a place of suicidal contemplation.
These are big themes and the author manages to bring to life a character who has experienced extreme early life adversity and who continues to experience great difficulties; yet make her simultaneously relatable to almost any reader.
I particularly enjoyed the pages relating to Eleanor’s relationship with her therapist, another relationship that is addressed thoughtfully throughout. I would have welcomed more narrative around her interactions with Dr Temple, but that may be my own bias and if anything highlights just how real a character she seemed to be.
Having met and worked with many people who perhaps have shared stories not so dissimilar, in a strange sort of way I can’t help but see Eleanor Oliphant as a warrior, who by the end of the book has emerged as a resilient and strong woman (even if she doesn’t quite know it in that way yet).
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, available to purchase here.