The book I’m recommending this week is the first book I bought after moving to Spain. I had brought with me only one book which I finished not long after arriving (god, I miss the unemployed life). I really needed a kindle but at this point, I didn’t have one (since I devastatingly sat on and broke my previous one over the summer).
At the time I assumed that I was completely screwed in terms of finding English books in Madrid. On my google searches, not a whole lot of results came up.
One day, I was killing time between classes, wandering around El Corte Ingles which is effectively the Spanish equivalent of Debenhams or BHS or any well-known department store that I am currently completely blanking on.
I walked through the book section in the hope of finding something in English. After much searching (and a stern refusal to ask any of the staff) I came across a tiny column of shelves in the corner that was entitled ‘Libros en Ingles’. Once again, my amazing Spanish skills got me by.
It was the strangest mixture of books, old and new, well-known and obscure, and it clearly reflected a half-hearted effort put into the supply, undeniably a result of a lack of demand.
I spent a good hour searching through it in the hope of finding something that I was willing to commit to paying an average of €12 for. Only newly employed and having forked for first month’s rent, a deposit (and of course all the necessary home décor items) this seemed like a fair amount of money to part with for a potentially terrible book. I found many old classics that I know I should read but didn’t quite fancy at the time (realistically, will I ever?).
With the clock ticking and my next class looming, I settled for one of the three I had in my hand, the one that had a label stating, ‘Costa Book Award Winner’, I figured that this meant it had to be marginally enjoyable at the very least.
The book I purchased that day is called ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman, and boy did it quickly spring high up on the list of my favorite books.
From the first couple of pages, I was drawn in and fascinated with the leading character, this unusually love-able protagonist, a new version of the heroine archetype we are so often aggrieved by.
The plot revolves around a perpetually isolated woman, but it is portrayed in a surprisingly joyful and humorous manner. It is difficult to decipher whether Eleanor suffers from real mental illnesses or learning difficulties, or whether her actions are a result of a long-term affliction to loneliness.
Either way, her social awkwardness is both cringe-worthy and thrilling all in one. In fact, any cringing is due to our own knowledge of how one is expected to act in certain situations. Eleanor herself is completely unaware and unphased by what others think and this was for me a very freeing aspect of the book.
At the centre of the book, it forces the reader to face the serious topic of loneliness and its effects. I think overall it wants us to challenge the stigma that is associated with loneliness in a world where we are all beginning to challenge and overturn any stereotypes we were restricted by before.
This book came at a perfect time, a time when we are all focusing on burgeoning issues such as anxiety and depression and it is easy to forget the simplest and most common one of all; loneliness.
“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” – Eleanor Oliphant.
All in all, Honeyman creates one of the most endearing characters I have ever read. Eleanor’s unusual perspective of life and her difficult social encounters are entertaining and heart-warming.
Beginning my new life in Madrid was daunting and lonely at times and having Eleanor by my side made it so much easier. This may sound childish and simplistic to put all my power and reliance on a book, but Eleanor’s journey sometimes mirrored mine in a new city that I was completely unfamiliar with, where I didn’t speak the native language or know anyone.
I guarantee you won’t regret reading this book and if you’re like me you’ll be enticed instantaneously because, in the end, I think we all have a little Eleanor Oliphant in us.
Get it here.