Thursday 14 December 2017

Quirky take on pain of loneliness

Fiction: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman, Harper Collins, €18.20

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Margaret Madden

Eleanor Oliphant is a creature of habit. She has lived in the same flat since her teens, eats the same lunch in the staff room each day and buys cheap vodka from a local shop on a regular basis. She is happy and content. Socially awkward, she resists interaction with others and is taken aback with her recent friendship with the office IT guy.

She takes tentative steps to change her outlook and is shocked when she looks out from her cloak of blandness. "The barman was well over six feet tall and created strange, enormous holes in his earlobes by inserting little black plastic circles in order to push back the skin. For some reason, I was reminded of my shower curtain."

Similar to Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project, the author uses a quirky character to narrate the story and this results in a charming yet heartbreaking novel. Eleanor's story sheds light on the expectations of society. "Was this how it worked, then, successful social integration? Was it really that simple? Wear some lipstick, go to the hairdressers and alternate the clothes you wear?"

Eleanor has never had a friend. She never even realised that she needed one. "I was well aware that people of my age usually had at least one or two friends. I hadn't tried to shun them, and neither had I sought them out, it had just always been so difficult to meet like-minded people."

It is only when she stumbles across friendship that she acknowledges her pain. "I took one of my hands in the other, tried to imagine what it would feel like if it was another person's hand holding mine. There have been times when I felt that I might die of loneliness."

A perfect balance of wit and warmth bring Eleanor Oliphant to life in this truly delightful and enchanting read.

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