Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Gail Honeyman

You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be spoilers.


Happy International Women’s Day! 🥳 I’d completely forgotten about this day until Snapchat reminded me of it an hour ago, but it seemed appropriate to mark the occasion with a review of the latest addition to my badass women shelf. I’d been planning to post this review today anyway, but it’s nice when things work out.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the sweet, hilarious, and heartbreaking story of a young woman who has come through horrific abuse, both at the hands of her mother and of her college boyfriend, and somehow still made it into her thirties. Following the institutionalization of her mother and the removal of her boyfriend, she has been living by herself and working as an accountant at a design agency. Given that she was raised by a mentally unstable mother and then shifted from foster house to foster house for the rest of her childhood, she has very poor social skills, and is more comfortable with classical literature than she is with other people. Though she is repulsed by the people she interacts with on a day-to-day basis, she also quietly wishes for connection, and eventually finds it when she is befriended by Raymond Gibbons, the office IT guy and her complete antithesis.

Eleanor Oliphant struck a chord with me because I am a book-inhaling, literature-reciting nerd who has been muddling along for about a decade in a life I would consider “fine.” In the thirty or so years she’s been alive, no one has ever told Eleanor that life should be better than “fine,” and it shows. She goes to work every day at the same time, comes home at the same time, and eats pasta with pesto and salad every night except for Friday, when she buys a frozen pizza from the supermarket. She has nothing to do on the weekends, and spends every weekend waiting for Monday to come while drinking herself blind. It sounds depressing when I say it like that, but Eleanor is actually really good company. For someone whose weekly highlight is a frozen margherita pizza and a bottle of Chianti, she’s surprisingly funny. She never actually means to be funny, but her day-to-day observations are hilarious. Here’s a few of my favorites:

Eleanor vs. Sports Day

How they loved to wear those badges on their blazers the next day! As if a silver in the egg-and-spoon race was some sort of compensation for not understanding how to use an apostrophe.

Eleanor vs. Rock

It was, I thought, the sound of madness, the kind of music the lunatics hear in their heads just before they slice the heads off foxes and throw them into their neighbor’s back garden.

That’s………..really specific.

Eleanor vs. Clients

Clients, I soon learned, could be very demanding; I still had limited direct contact with them, which suited me just fine.

From what I could gather, they would routinely be completely unable to articulate their requirements, at which point, in desperation, the designers would create some artwork for them based on the few vague hints they had managed to elicit. After many hours of work, involving a full team of staff, the work would be submitted to the client for approval. At that point, the client would say, “No. That’s exactly what I don’t want.”

There would be several torturous iterations of this process before the client finally declared his or herself satisfied with the end results. Inevitably, Bob said, the artwork that was signed off on at the end of the process was virtually identical to the first piece of work submitted, which the client had immediately dismissed as unsuitable. It was no wonder, I thought, that he kept the staff room well stocked with beer, wine and chocolate, and that the art team availed themselves of it quite so frequently.

OUCH. 😭💔 As a professional designer employed by a multinational corporation, I can tell you that none of Eleanor’s observations are exaggerated, and that chocolate is a welcome and necessary part of most of my days.

This was what sold me on Eleanor: I’d seen the book making the social media rounds and had been somewhat interested, but I was put off by the romance vibes in the synopsis and ultimately decided against it. Romance has never been my thing, and this one sounded particularly sappy. I might never have read the book if I hadn’t received a photo of the Eleanor vs. Clients passage from a friend who knows me waaaaayyyyyyyy too well. I was mildly disappointed to discover that Eleanor herself is not one of the tortured designers, but her perspective on the matter, first as an accountant and then as the interim office manager, somehow makes her observations even more pointed. And, although there is a love story involved, it’s a very quiet kind of love story, the kind that doesn’t make me want to hurl fox heads into my neighbors’ gardens.

One thing I really, really love about Eleanor Oliphant is that, although it’s gently hinted that Eleanor and Raymond might eventually get together, as of the end of the book they don’t. I love that they end the book as besties rather than as a couple. I love that they’ll both have time to process and figure out what they want from a relationship. I love that Honeyman didn’t feel like she had to pair them off, either with each other or with other people, by the end of the book.

I’ll admit I had concerns. One of the most prominent story arcs is Eleanor’s growing obsession with Johnnie Lomond, a local musician generally held in low regard by other characters. It becomes clear fairly quickly that Johnnie is a pretentious, talentless asshole, but Eleanor forms a massive crush on him after seeing him perform just once, and proceeds to stalk him for most of the book. To this end she buys her first laptop and smartphone and follows him on Facebook and Twitter, and frequently fantasizes about their first meeting, which she spends most of her time trying to orchestrate, and their life together. But all great fantasies must come to an end, and she eventually realizes that her imaginary relationship is never going to fly. This was an enormous relief and part of the reason I was really really glad she’s going to have time to be single and think about what she wants from a boyfriend, even if I did occasionally want to shake her and scream “RAYMOND IS SO MUCH BETTER FOR YOU!”

I was concerned about this arc not because it’s bad or unrealistic, but because by that point I loved Eleanor so much that the thought of seeing her throw herself at a man who would only hurt her was unbearable. I had a couple of theories going: (1) Eleanor would meet Johnnie Lomond, and he would say or do something awful to her; or (2) Eleanor would eventually realize that she liked Raymond, and would completely forget about Johnnie. In the end neither of these things happened because Eleanor, like the sensible, intelligent person she is, realizes completely on her own that her “love” is only a crush, and that she has been behaving like a starstruck fifteen-year-old.

The moment in which she realizes that Johnnie doesn’t know her from Eve is perhaps the most heartbreaking, because she’d built up a whole world around a man who was unworthy of her and then found it crashing down around her ears in the space of one evening. This realization leads to a mental crash, which in turn leads to a crushing, alcohol-fueled meltdown and almost suicide attempt. Fortunately, Raymond notices she’s suddenly gone missing and turns up at her door, and eventually manages to steer her into therapy. With the help of Raymond and Dr. Temple, she restabilizes and begins to learn to love herself, and also learns to cope with the loss of her sister and her mother, whose deaths she has been repressing – somewhat predictably – for most of her life.

This is one of the very few gripes I had with Eleanor Oliphant: it’s mildly predictable. It doesn’t even come close to the usual romantic formula, but the biggest influences on her life are easily guessed. On page one she says she went to her first job interview with a black eye, a couple of missing teeth, and a broken arm, which tells you that an abusive boyfriend will be coming out at some point in the book. It’s not that you can completely rule out abuse by family, but at that stage in her life an abusive partner seemed more likely. In chapter 22 her mother says “I was cursed with daughters,” which tells you that Eleanor had a sister at some point, even though she has no memory of this sister and thinks she is an only child. Looking back over the rest of the story, I’ve begun to see other clues that I missed during my first read-through, little hints of Marianne. I really need to read this again, because I’m starting to realize how smoothly Marianne was integrated into the story, even if she wasn’t explicitly introduced until the end. And, even though I could predict the missing sister and the abusive boyfriend, the death of the mother came as a complete surprise. In retrospect, it did seem a little funny that this awful woman was still allowed to verbally abuse her daughter from whatever institution she’d been put in, but it makes perfect sense that she’s just an elaborate construction created by Eleanor as a coping mechanism.

Even with all of the above, Eleanor Oliphant still wasn’t done with me, because I also bought the audiobook and listened to it during work this past week. It was excellent. The narration was wonderful. The story didn’t get old or tiring because there were so many little clues and references I’d missed the first time around, including a reference to The Wire that completely went over my head. I will say I’m really glad I read it first, because I really would’ve struggled with the Scottish accent if I hadn’t already known the story and the dialogue.

CliffsNotes

Pros: This is hands down one of the best books I’ve read this year. Of course, the year is still young, but the statement stands. If you’re on the fence about Eleanor Oliphant, read it. I recommend both the print and audio versions. As a random bonus (for me), Eleanor and I share a birth year. 🙃 As a more general bonus, fans of classical literature should have fun finding her treasure trove of classical references. My favorite:

When the buzzer sounded on the heat lamp, the color-mixing girl came over and led me to the “backwash,” which was, by any other name, a sink.

I feel like Eleanor is going to make me even more literate, because she’s seriously making me want to start reading Jane Austen and the Brontës. For instance, I only just now realized she foreshadows Marianne in chapter 13, when she mentions her love of the characters Elinor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. This requires further investigation. I can see I’ll be visiting the library a lot this year.

Cons: Mild predictability, a certain idiot musician who’s not worth Eleanor’s spit, unclear passage of time. In the beginning she says she’s “nearly thirty,” later she says she’s just turned thirty-one. What’s up with that? Also Reese’s fucking book club sticker is still stuck on the front wtaf 🤬 This doesn’t actually affect my enjoyment of the book – I mean, I’m not insane – but I still don’t see the need for these gorram stickers. If you’re somebody who doesn’t care about the stickers, I envy you.

Random Brain Farts

I had trouble finding the book at Barnes & Noble because I was absolutely convinced it was written by Elin Hilderbrand and I have no idea why. Luckily it wasn’t too far down from the Hilderbrand section, so I still found it anyway. Then I was convinced it was written by someone named Gail Honeymoon. I actually typed “Honeymoon” earlier in this review and only caught it by chance. I seriously have no idea how my brain works sometimes. Maybe I associate it with Hilderbrand because it’s on the same shelf as the Hilderbrand books idk man

Out of the Rabbit Hole

My last post was 318 days ago. What in the actual f@$# was I doing for 318 days? Desperately climbing out of this hollow place of despair also known as the rabbit hole.

The duration of my visits depends on how much I over-commit myself to people and/or projects. Managing my own mental health and the war within, trying to be a good human towards others, and striving to achieve my goals, all while trying to find my niche in this chaos so I can be a somewhat dependable being and contributing member of society, has left me wanting to nap to avoid the anxiety that comes with it all.

Alas, I pressed on and checked off many of my tasks from 30 Days of Projects. Due to certain projects changing while the rest took more days than anticipated – most notably Marie Kondo-ing the sh** out of my condo, the not-so-fun renegotiation of household bills, and putting the final touches on my office – I have been delayed on the last 10 projects on my list. Interestingly enough, my husband and I decided to sell our condo and randomly move to either Florida (and be closer to my seester Meriel but abandon seester Karo) or Baltimore to live in a high-rise overlooking the Harbor and the Ravens stadium even though I’m not a Ravens fan. Instead our second home is a cozy 1973 single-family house very much separated from our neighbors with lots of green space and much closer to seester Karo. In other words, and because I must be a glutton for punishment, I have a new set of projects. This time, however, I do not intend to return to that rabbit hole.

P.S. I did return to the dark side, or at least my hair color did.

2020 Vision: Use It

It’s officially 2020.

And in honor of the saying, “Hindsight is 2020,” I have some shit to say.

  1. Whatever and whomever you left in 2019 (or even years before that) can stay back there. Not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever, and whether time has simply caused you to part ways or they’re toxic and you burned that bridge after you crossed it, recognize that it isn’t worth your time and energy trying to maintain every single relationship. In 2020 we are letting sleeping dogs lie. My personal rule is that if someone wants to walk out of my life that’s fine; I will even hold the door. But I don’t do second chances. Once someone’s gone they have to stay that way. They made their bed and they have to lie in it. Life’s too short to go in circles that are really downward spirals with people who have already told us at least once that we don’t matter to them. When people show you who they are, believe them and act accordingly. Give that time and energy to your ride or dies. They’ll always have your back, and you get better ROI from investing time and energy into those relationships that you know are solid.
  2. Diets are dead, okay? By all means, make a healthy lifestyle change but enough with the “quick fixes” and marketing schemes. I’m sick of this shit. No more fucking gummy bears or shakes or teas or wraps or whatever the fuck some Insta-famous or reality tv celeb is trying to sell you. The only thing they’re selling is you out to immoral companies that use marketing tactics instead of science to eat away at your mental, emotional, physical, and financial health while doing nothing for your actual health. Knock that shit off. Stop letting them make money off of your insecurities. Stop letting them tell you something is wrong with your or needs to be fixed and buying their bullshit. If you want real advice on your health and wellbeing consult a medical doctor or licensed registered dietitian. Not an online trainer, not a YouTube video, not an Instagram model, not anyone trying to sell you anything. You are perfect just as you are, and we aren’t listening to anything else from anyone else. Which brings me to number three…
  3. Toxic people, if you didn’t leave them behind already, they gotta go. The guy you really like who gaslights you? Boy, bye. Your relative who always has a comment on your appearance? Should learn how to shut up if they don’t have anything nice to say. Your coworker who always wants you to cover for her and defend her even when she drops the ball but she never makes an effort to NOT drop the ball? Not anymore, satan. Arguing about dumb shit with strangers online? You know you feel bad afterwards even if you’re “right” – your mental and emotional health are more important (and frankly your eyes could use a break from the screen time, no matter how cute your blue light glasses are). Feeding trolls and clowns and asshats is like getting into a zoo animal’s enclosure. In case we haven’t learned already, it’s a terrible fucking idea don’t do it (but also like, what part of the fence and the “KEEP OUT” did you miss?).
  4. Do SOMETHING new this year to take better care of yourself. I don’t know how to tell you this but all of us are only getting older and shit’s only gonna get harder (oof, what a pun). But seriously; I don’t care if it’s as simple as “drink more water,” “get more sleep,” or “move more.” If you have the financial means to get medical treatment if something goes wrong, use it instead of being stubborn or lazy and letting a small problem become a big problem. Stop eating take-out five nights a week and start meal prepping real food. Seriously, your wallet and your stomach will both thank you. The body you have is the only one you’re ever gonna have. Start acting like it.
  5. Love people louder. If there’s a hard lesson I’ve learned over and over and over again it’s that no time is promised to us or anyone else. It’s a damn miracle we all made it to today. A lot of people didn’t. Don’t miss opportunities to tell the people you love that you do. You never know when your last chance will be, and I can guarantee you that leaving things left unsaid is a special kind of aching burden to carry once someone is gone. So give that person a call, send a letter or a card, go spend an afternoon with them. Time is our most precious commodity. Spend yours wisely.
  6. Find things that set your soul on fire, and give them the time you give Netflix or whatever other non-constructive pastimes you waste untold hours on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of this, too (arguably more than anyone). But spend more time doing shit that makes you happy. Dance, write, go somewhere, go outside and do something (hike, kayak, ride a bike, whatever), cook, read a book, explore your area. Do things that make you happy and make you a better you. If for no other reason than when someone asks what you did last weekend you’ll have more to say than, “lol watched netflix.”
  7. Keep learning. I’m not saying go become a master of Kung Fu, a musical savant, a Michelin-rated chef, and learn two new languages. But maybe try to read more books, keep tabs on global news, try new cuisines, listen to different TED talks, take an art class, pick up a new hobby… make your brain work a little harder and it’ll pay you back in spades when you aren’t a mushy-brained vegetable in a few decades. You might also find it gives you more to think about and more to contribute to conversations (at work, with friends, with family, et cetera). No more awkward silences for you, friend.
  8. Stop being so damned hard on yourself. I don’t care if you didn’t get that promotion you applied for or you haven’t cleaned your place in a month or forgot your grandma’s birthday. Don’t beat yourself up. Life’s full of obstacles and distractions and even though technology can help us be organized it cannot make us infallible (besides, that’d be boring AF). We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to forget things even if they’re important to us. We’re going to hurt someone’s feelings even when we didn’t intend to. We’re going to drop the ball, miss the mark, whatever. It’s okay. It happens to everyone all the damn time. Don’t believe the seemingly “picture perfect” life of people who are on social media posting photos of their vacay in Bali and their #blessed bullshit. Those people don’t always fit in their jeans or get to work on time, either. Don’t worry about other people, just worry about yourself. And frankly if you’re doing your best you’ve got nothing to worry about anyway.
  9. Laugh more. You can do this with videos online, sure. But I personally highly recommend getting your laughs from real life, in real time, right in front of you. This is coming from someone who laughs if she trips walking on flat, stable surface, so bear with me here, but learn to laugh about it. Find the humor in the every day. I laugh when people misspell things (at work, on signs in store windows, etc). I laugh when I leave one room and go to another and can’t remember why. I laugh when my coworker makes a face when one of our peers is being obnoxious (whose idea was open office spaces, honestly?). I laugh when my cats are being goofy (you ever seen a cat on catnip?). Life’s just a lot easier when you find the humor in it.
  10. Just fucking be a decent human and be environmentally and socially conscious, okay? Recycle, turn your lights off if you don’t really need them on, unplug shit when you’re not using it, don’t leave your heat or your AC on some ridiculous temperature if you’re home by yourself (seriously walk around naked at that point no one cares), try to reuse if possible, use fewer disposables and single-use items, don’t run half-empty loads of laundry or a half-empty dishwasher, don’t have your existential crisis in the shower and waste water, don’t waste water when you’re brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, either… you get the picture. And let’s be honest, we know that corporations are the biggest polluters, but we play a role in that. Want palm deforestation to stop happening so orangutans can keep their homes and we keep healthy forests? Me, too. So stop buying peanut butter and coffee creamer and other products with palm oil in them and find alternatives. Don’t like the climbing temperatures, over-flowing landfills and abuse of laborers? Stop buying fast fashion and fast food. Want to reduce your carbon footprint? Buy local, in-season produce and products when available (bonus points: this also supports your local growers, artisans, and economy). We aren’t getting another planet to live on, so let’s not trash this one. Waste not, want not. Just kidding, I want a planet that’s not simultaneously on fire and going underwater due to rising sea levels. Thanks, pollution-fueled climate change.

Corporate Potato Gettin’ Ish Done

There is this frustrating thing about mental illness for me, where I have the self-awareness to see many (not all, to be sure) of my flaws but not the energy to take actions to right them or at least proactively try to counteract them. They’re largely innocuous things. I’d like to believe I mastered the ugliest of my everyday demons and no longer do things like snark at undeserving people or actively self-sabotage.

But the simpler things I admittedly struggle with, and further admit it’s not because I don’t know how to address them I just… don’t want to. That’s the thing about depression and anxiety. Sure there’s the sadness and the worry and the existential dread… but often once those have wrung you dry of every drop of energy not otherwise spent on unavoidable necessities (commuting, working all day, not pterodactyl screeching at every inconsiderate troglodyte that inconveniences your day), there’s nothing left for the simple tasks: folding  the clothes in the dryer, emptying the dishwasher, actually making dinner and doing the dishes…

None of these are monumental tasks requiring herculean efforts. At least, not for normal people. But I’m not normal. I get exhausted by having to talk to people at work and often talk myself out of things I kind of wanted to do because of petty made-up potential pitfalls. And maybe it is just eight minutes of laundry to fold and five minutes of dishes to put away but that’s thirteen minutes of energy I would much rather spend being an apathetic couch potato. Unwinding from corporate potato mode will take it right out of ya, I tell ya.

The really dumb part? I’ve never done one of these simple tasks and been upset that I did it. In fact as a general rule I’ve never done any self-care task and then been like, “Man, I really wish I hadn’t just made my own life better by doing that.” (Painting my nails doesn’t count because I do regret doing that 10/10 times.)

Have you ever felt bad about having a clean, tidy space? Or feeling healthy? Or knowing exactly where what you need is? I haven’t.

Whether I ate a healthy meal I made myself, or am enjoying a clean towel after stepping out of my clean shower, or putting my dishes immediately in the dishwasher after breakfast because I haven’t left clean dishes sitting in the dishwasher for no real reason, I feel good.

These are such simple, basic tasks. They take very little time and honestly leave me so ridiculously happy and proud of myself.

So why do I fight them? Why do I stubbornly and patently refuse to do simple things that not only BENEFIT me but make me HAPPY?

Because my brain isn’t wired quite correctly. I lost the manual (not like I read it anyway), and it’s just kinda stuck this way, okay? BUT there IS an override.

I’m pretty sure motivation is like a fantasy or some shit. It’s snake oil. In thirty years I rarely see that bitch and she is always fleeting like a mirage. So what’s the override?

Well, it’s two-fold: it’s discipline and consistency.

I’m not gonna sit here and tell you either is easy to conjure up. Honestly you’ll have a much easier time summoning any demon of your choosing (oddly angels are less inclined to come when called, but I digress).

But that’s the secret sauce. I don’t care if your challenge is not getting to work on time, getting in shape, or brushing your damn teeth – discipline and consistency are the solution. You just have to choose them.

Choosing to do what’s best for myself has been a precipice I’ve tiptoed along for my entire life; it’s not been made any easier in the nearly two thirds of my life spent with mental health struggles. But the fact is and will always be that it is still a choice and still my choice to make. The only one who suffers for my choices to not do simple things that add to my overall wellness is me.

So long story short if you wonder what fucking cave I’ve been spelunking in that had me failing to share my brain-drivel with you all recently, that’s it – I’ve been lost to my own devices, trying to do a better job of holding myself accountable. I don’t have much to show for it except for generally feeling better about my life choices on a daily basis… and that’s more than enough for me.

Do you struggle with doing things you know you should do? Tell me your stories so we can ride the struggle bus together!

We Interrupt This Program

Things I was supposed to do this week:
  1. Ship two projects.
  2. Buy a baby shower gift.
  3. Try to get my ass up to Boston. (Don’t ask if I’ve started applying to the 50 bazillion jobs I bookmarked on Monday, cus I’ll never tell.)
  4. Draw two of the journal comics I promised when we first launched this site.
  5. Get started on a couple of freelance projects.
  6. Generally keep my shit together.
Things I wasn’t supposed to do but still did anyway:
  1. Get into a fist fight with InDesign.
  2. Lose my shit, rage across the Pacific, and rampage through Tokyo.
  3. Leave my music folder at school.

I usually have my violin lesson on Saturdays, but I’ll be at a baby shower this Saturday so my teacher let me come in on Wednesday. We had a good time and made fine progress reteaching me the Schindler’s List parts I learned a couple weeks ago which I 100% have practiced I swear and then when it was time to go I remembered to zip up my violin case properly but somehow managed to leave this smug little shit on the music stand AND IT IS LAUGHING AT ME
(ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻ (non v.g.)

I wasn’t planning on raging across the Pacific, but just as I was congratulating myself on leaving work 30 minutes early I remembered I needed to go pick up my folder. Which is not in itself a tragedy, but I’ve been feeling weird today because, I don’t know, it’s a Thursday? (Yeah, that doesn’t make sense to me either.) Whatever the reason, I spiraled hard during the drive and was on track to devolve into full-blown Order of the Phoenix Harry when I arrived at the school and got blasted with a huge dose of nature’s answer to mental health problems:

 

ASD;JKFGHKLVHHHHHH WHAT MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS I DON’T HAVE ANY MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS I MEAN LOOK AT THAT SWEET LITTLE FAAAAAAAAACE /dead

Then since I happened to be by a bakery (total coincidence), I bought three cookies, ate one in the car, and wondered vaguely why all my problems can’t solve themselves so politely.

At least tomorrow’s Friday?