When a book deals with issues like loneliness, childhood abuse, neglect and some degree of psychosis, the result definitely sounds like a very very depressing read. Something that you would run a mile away from, after a long and busy week. But what if the book is somehow like Rajkumar Hirani’s movies where difficult issues give rise to a compelling, heart warming tale with a feel good ending?
Loneliness is an emotion I often see in my everyday dealings with patients. People seem to be lonely in the midst of marriages, joint families, school, children and hectic careers. Loneliness has also been described as “social pain” – a psychological mechanism meant to motivate people to seek for friendships or a purpose in life. Most clients I work with are trying desperately to get out of this bog and hence sign up for counselling. But what if there is someone who is completely alone but does not necessarily feel bad about it?
“Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine” explores this theme and was one of the reasons that I picked the book. The protagonist of this novel Eleanor, is a woman in her thirties. She works in an office, doing mundane odd jobs. She has a strict obsessive routine which she follows through the week, and the weekends.She has no friends nor does she feel the need for any. She is the butt of a few office jokes due to her reclusiveness, but takes it in her stride. And feels completely fine.
Till one fine day, her life changes because of an accident involving an aged stranger. She ends up helping him to the hospital along with a colleague from work. And gets slowly drawn into a world filled with emotions, relationships and togetherness.
Gail Honeyman, the writer has beautifully etched out a character who is quirky but likable because of her extreme straightforwardness. Eleanor seems part autistic, part schizophrenic and part personality disordered, but is still endearing and funny. As the book unfolds, we get to know the reasons behind the heroine’s behavior. Though depressing, you end up marveling at the way she has handled her life through the misery.
I loved the book.
First of all because, the protagonist is someone who has flaws. Huge ones. But still has her own place under the sun. It makes flaws quite acceptable. Something not to be ashamed of. Just like how it should be for all of us. Most people are either oblivious of theirs or are excessive about getting rid of them. With Elanor, what you get is acceptance of the fact and not making a big deal out of it. And changing when the need arises.
Secondly, it challenges us to think change the way we think about people who are different in some way or mentally ill. It prods us to think about whether they have reasons which made them the way they are. I remember the time when I had to deal with an accident on my way back from tutions. The chain of my cycle gave way and I was left stranded on the road at night with rain threatening to pour. There was this boy in our class, who was mildly retarded (which I know now)and the butt of all our class jokes. I am ashamed to say, that I have laughed at a few of them too. This boy, with whom I had hardly spoken, helped me lift the cycle and repair the chain. Then, he politely said goodnight and disappeared. We hardly even talked after the incident and through school. I now wish that I had the good sense to get to know ,understand and be friends with him. Most of the time, I feel,we are too busy trying to fit in, than to extend a helping hand to those who are left out.
Thirdly, it gives an nuanced description of a person who would fall in the autistic spectrum. The lack of grace, the acceptance of facts at face value, the simple way of life and brutal honesty make you wonder whether we are normal or vice versa.
Finally, the fact that the book ends on a positive note and a fuzzy warm feeling, makes it the perfect read on a cold rainy weekend.
Have you read the book yet?