Book review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way, A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.” (p343)

Summary

This book follows 30-year-old Eleanor as she discovers the beauty of friendship and undergoes an internal transformation that gives her the strength to confront demons from her past. (I’ve probably made the book sound less interesting than it is but that’s because I’ve tried to keep my overview just provided spoiler-free.)

Gail Honeyman: 'I didn't want Eleanor Oliphant to be portrayed as a victim'  | Fiction | The Guardian
A version of the book art commonly seen on UK bookshelves. The book sold really well in the US & UK.

This book was published in 2017 and admittedly I’ve heard a lot of hype around this book, so it’s been on my radar for quite a while (I would say about 2-3 years). But like with many things that gain a lot of chatter, I didn’t want to feel pressured into reading it because everyone else was, so I made a mental note to read it when the time was right. Nevertheless, expectations were high and I was excited to get stuck in and figure out what on Earth this book was about. The title doesn’t give away much and neither does the blurb so it is one of those ‘you have to read it for yourself’ type books, if you want to really understand the themes, characters and general storyline of the book. Please be warned that this book deals with themes of suicide, depression and emotional abuse.

The main point of intrigue for readers of this novel will be the series of events behind much of Eleanor’s trauma, although hinted at early on in the book, the details are slowly revealed later on.

Style

The novel is narrated in first person (from Eleanor’s perspective) and is split into three parts; Good days, bad days and better days. I found the choice of first-person narrative to be very beneficial to me as the reader, since Eleanor seems to observe the world, as well as the situations and people she encounters, in a unique and profound way that would be lost in, say, third person, for example. In particular, I loved how it made me feel like I was in her therapy sessions with her, as she went week after week – each session giving her a life-changing revelation.

Thoughts

My impressions upon reading are that I can see why this book captured the imagination of many readers when it was first released. Eleanor is a very quirky, and ultimately a likable character.* She tends to be very savvy, intelligent and kind-hearted; even if not obvious to those she meets at first, those character traits always come through or stand out to them by the end. Her colleagues, for example, find her peculiar and so tend to keep interactions with her to a minimum. Although the peculiarity may be an understandable first impression, Eleanor, as you grow to learn the more you get to know her, is a classic case of why appearances (and first impressions) can be deceiving.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Book Review - Hasty Book List
Alternative book art

Perhaps due to an a typical childhood, Eleanor is usually not afraid to say things how it is which leads to many awkward (and yet hilarious) public encounters which definitely feel more unique to her as an individual. For example, there was an amusing scene in the later half of the book, where Eleanor is ordering coffee with a friend, and when asked what her name is so it can be placed on her drink, she kicks up a fight, ensuring she has the right to privacy. There are not many books I read that make me laugh or smile often and this one achieved this purpose so, props to Gail for that!

My only qualm (yes, there is one, unfortunately) is that it did feel like, when it comes to Eleanor as a character, she came across as quite caricature-like at times and almost unbelievable. I mean, what 29-30-year-old individual would struggle to order pizza in this day and age? A scene in a similar vein takes place where Eleanor buys a new laptop and seems to be really unfamiliar with how to set it up because she’s never owned one before. Another scene that felt slightly unrealistic in an age where tech permeates pretty much most areas of our lives.

However, I will say for every unrealistic trait Eleanor has, there is one that resonates strongly with readers. Whether it be; the loneliness, the frequent bafflement at human behaviour, the overwhelming desire for companionship & friends, the underlying grief, that niggling ‘what is the point of this?’ feeling of life, the depression. It’s all very real stuff, the ‘baggage’ many of us carry from day to day but don’t always see reflected in the characters we read about in books.

*It’s also suspected, but not confirmed that Eleanor is neurodivergent.

Conclusion

Ultimately, this novel is one about an individual’s journey of growth, self-acceptance and change. Although it may take a while to warm to Eleanor, Gail succeeds in creating a character who you can’t help but root for and empathise with. She’s brutally honest about her flaws and mental health issues, making her relatable, if not iconic, for many readers who have or are currently walking in Eleanor’s shoes.

The (belated) Christmas Post

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas! 🎄😃

Christmas is losing its spunk. Or so, that’s how it’s been slowly starting to feel over the last few years. Originally when I started to think this, I thought ‘surely not’, maybe it’s just a one-year thing, so I pressed the thought down and tucked it away. Kind of like a teen would do when tidying their room – stashing their clothes into a brimming wardrobe and slamming it shut, hoping they won’t have to open it again and experience the cascade of clothes that would occur if they did.

Lovely modern Christmas tree spotted in South London by moi

I suspect, at the root of this feeling is a fruitless comparison to the Christmas days experienced as a child – where it was a holiday that dripped with anticipation. I would watch fun films or bring toys into school to play with, eagerly open my chocolate advent calendar in the run-up to that day and help my dad set up the tree and streamers across the living room. My family would collect Christmas cards like Pokemon cards, often eventually running out of space in the house to hang them. Presents were always an expectation, as is still the case for many children today. I would religiously make lists of what to get each of my closest friends and would also sift for ages at a time through the Argos catalogue to create a present wishlist of my own for my parents.

Nowadays, the holidays aren’t too consumed with presents for me – I typically buy myself one or two gifts to get into the spirit and may also give gifts (if I can) to selected friends. We don’t really bother with a tree and decorations anymore so it’s simply an occasion of Christmas tunes, food and music now. To be fair, I don’t mind having Christmas this way that much, I think my celebrations are less consumer-ist focused now which means I can properly appreciate what matters most  –  family time, ending the year on a high and most importantly, for me as a believer, the significance of Jesus’ birth to [the fate of] humankind (John 3:16).

Thinking about all of this recently it was therefore profound to see this tweet which talks about dwelling less on the Christmas of our childhood and creating a new reality of Christmas which fits our current lifestyle and expectations as adults.

I think there’s an important point to be made there since otherwise, without making a deliberate choice to create this new reality, we’ll always be comparing Christmases that have passed to Christmas now and we’ll always be disappointed.

Who knows, perhaps when or if I have children I’ll change my tune and insist on Instagram-worthy Christmases every year but for now, this is where I stand.

On all things Sustainability

Why we need to think bigger and do better when it comes to our global sustainability efforts

There is no doubt this world is going through an environmental crisis. In fact, it is quite common for me to think of an issue such as this and melt into a pool of hopelessness (without fail.) Daily reports, research and Netflix documentaries often only add to this deep angst and feelings of helplessness. I’m not alone though – 60% of young people feel worried or very worried about climate change according to a recent global survey.

Things are so easily available to us that we consume very thoughtlessly and without need at a scary rate. Many items are typically cheaper to replace than repair, plus the capitalist system many countries operate in seems to be at odds with sustainability efforts. Perhaps you could say us being in this position was an inevitable state of affairs…

It’s not my fault! (Is it?)

Interestingly. when we look at our efforts to be sustainable and how they relate to what we’re told by the media and governments, there is a lot of emphasis on what individuals can be doing and should be doing to save the planet. You need to recycle more, make sure you’re using less bathwater or here’s how you can sew your clothes to avoid throwing them away. I’ve been fed such messaging since I was in primary school where we would celebrate awareness days which taught us such things.

Don’t get me wrong – there really is no harm in doing all these things but whilst we make sure we sort our rubbish correctly into recycling and waste, turn our TVs off to avoid wasting energy and use energy-saving lightbulbs, it feels likes many corporations who are doing 5x as much havoc to the planet every day are let off the hook. I say this after recently watching Panorama’s documentary on Coca Cola and the truth behind its greenwashing messaging.

Well, of course, we could debate for eternity why this is the case but the trail always goes back to the money. Money, money, money. The climate blame game is very much skewed towards the public because it’s likely easier to fine individuals to deter them from littering in comparison to trying to stop corporations from dumping toxins into rivers. I say difficult, but not impossible. However, many governments are aware that if they tighten laws and seek to harshly punish global corporations based in their country, those companies will simply move and set up shop somewhere else – it’s why we call them ‘footloose’. However, it’s a sad reality and frankly, a frustrating one which means corporation interests are placed before that of citizens of the country – literally the opposite of democracy (if that’s a word that can be taken seriously anymore.)

Sustainability – the rich man’s game?

Why does it always seem like you have to make a choice between affordability and sustainability?

I remember having lunch with a colleague of mine and asking this exact question. This question is one I continue to ponder on often. I saw an ad the other day about a brand that sells a vegan alternative to eggs which still tastes exactly like eggs (according to the ad anyway.) When I finally came across it on the supermarket shelves it was £4. Four whole pounds. This didn’t make much sense to me considering you could easily buy a pack of 15-24 eggs for half the price. But I am aware that although a lot of these indie eco-alternative brands are definitely onto something with the products they produce, they don’t necessarily have the scale or exposure yet to sell at cheaper, more affordable prices.

This creates a problem for lower-income families who naturally live a very budget-conscious lifestyle out of necessity. If I was a working-class single mother of three children, would I even consider buying this vegan egg alternative? Probably not. The same goes for a zillion expensive organic alternatives I find in local shops no doubt seeking to serve the gentrified hipsters in my area. There’s no point in me pondering the purchase of such things I can’t afford. Yet, if we’re truly determined to create lasting change environmentally, we cannot have a two-tiered game where only the rich can afford to participate. Lasting change requires universal cooperation which means all consumers should be able to purchase products, make lifestyle changes and decisions that are affordable/easily accessible.

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By no means do I belong to a think tank or the UN so I’m not filled with solutions here.

However, some things I would say I would like to see more of:

  • We need more recycling infrastructure – at the moment much of our recycling gets shipped off to Southern East countries such as China where it could get recycled once sorted/processed or may – more often than not – just go to their landfill. It’s an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality to the disposal of waste that has to change. More recycling needs to take place domestically and infrastructure is needed to make this happen.
  • Companies need to make it clearer to consumers if they offer safe ways to dispose or recycle their products; whether it’s a laptop, washing machine or TV – they will keep going to landfill if consumers don’t know such a service exists. One of the best ways to do this could be through a ‘buy back’ scheme, like Currys PC World currently offers – where you recycle your old product through them and get money off to buy a new product.
  • Similarly, companies need to start offering spare parts which can help consumers fix their products and thus make them last longer. The number of times I’ve had a perfectly working item but cannot fix it myself and therefore have to buy a whole new product instead have been too numerous to count.

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I could go on and on but I’ll stop here for today.

Some suggested further reading:

The Eco Experts have created a list (with a company breakdown) of the top nine global corporate polluters which you can read here.

This WIRED article takes a more optimistic approach to the environmental issue and argues we need to be more hopeful about the future.

What do you think about this issue – unbothered or very concerned? Let me know your thoughts. 😊

Mastering Confidence

Why gaining confidence is not as easy or straight forward as it seems

The more I observe in this life, the more I’ve realised there is actually nothing more powerful than a confident woman. However, it does also feel like society conspires to keep women from reaching a point of peak confidence. This is because not only is it very powerful, it’s much feared.

Attending a confidence workshop at work recently, it struck me as very interesting that much of the attendees were female. Why does low-confidence seem to be quite a gendered issue, disproportionately affecting women more than men, I wondered?

Often, instead of seeing a confident woman and being in awe and admiration, instead people will judge. Where’s her humility? She’s a bit cocky ain’t she? We see this often even in female characters/ trope portrayed in the media – from Mean Girls’ Regina George, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) in Devil Wears Prada to Serena and Blair in Gossip Girl. Confidence, particularly in women is often associated with bad character and, consequently, danger or misfortune. I mean, Regina George gets run down by a bus, for goodness sake!

Such quick judgements and misconceptions around female confidence make it more of minefield to navigate, which is why many women don’t try to at all. Period. After all, why be loud and confident when you could just be in the low-confidence zone, quietly mind your business and be free from the judgemental eye of others?

A cultural taboo

Speaking as someone from the UK, it’s quite deeply ingrained that talking about oneself is quite un-British. I remember writing my personal statement (university application, to non-Brits) and thinking, wow, I have to write a whole page about me and just me? Well, that’s weird. Even, many years later when I’ve found myself applying for jobs and I have to talk about how I did this and I achieved that, when in actuality it was a team effort, it’s still very weird to get used to.

It’s not even just talking about oneself that can feel quite taboo – even accepting compliments can be quite hard. Anything that draws attention to you almost has to be swatted like a fly and stopped in its tracks. If you’ll pay attention, you’ll often notice it – especially with women. You compliment someone ‘Oooo that new haircut really suits you!’, and they’ll never directly accept it. Often it will be met with a semi-self-depreciating reply like ‘Oh, my cousin cut it actually – I didn’t even go to a proper salon!’. That way, the compliment is heard but kept at bay and you can fake a sort of fake humility that people love so much.

Pushing on and through

How it is in my imagination when you unlock the level of ultimate confidence.

Truthfully, I suspect, like for me, that sense of uneasiness when a moment requires confidence, never really leaves you. Originally, I thought confidence in adulthood would be more of a linear journey, and perhaps for some people it is – many influencers do talk of it as such. Over time you perhaps build confidence, maybe in similar way to how Mario collects gold coins in the original game, until you (bingo) reach a point of completion and you’re suddenly confidence royalty. However, I’ve found it’s more like ocean water – it ebbs and flows for me; there are moments where I will be full of it, and other times when I won’t. The difficulty is getting better at controlling that ebb and flow so confidence can be demonstrated at the moments it really counts but may not come naturally.

When you’re asked to lead a workshop

When you have to be honest with a toxic friend or colleague

When you have to attend a large family gathering

When you have to perform at an important function or recital

…the list really goes on!

The key to confidence

Let me not sell you dreams since I’m trying to figure that out myself! But some quick tips that might help:

1. Self- examination; what is often at the root of your low confidence? And is it something you can actively start working on? Perhaps you need to confront a friend who has been making sly digs at you and knocking your confidence. Or perhaps you need to rejiggle your timeline and start following new people on social media.

2. Bad habits – time to undo them. It’s not possible for everyone to go from 0-100 straight away when it comes to increasing confidence but we can always slide up the scale slowly by undoing one bad habit at a time. Maybe, like my previous example, you find it hard to accept compliments. If so, you can make that a point to work on.

3. Prayer – my ultimate confidence comes from God, so prayer has always been important. When the time comes to step your confidence game and you’ve done all the prep (or worrying!) that you can, a prayer can always be calming. It centres me and reminds me everything is under control.

Do you have any tips to share growing in confidence or overcoming fear?

Book Review: Stay With Me

Admittedly, I wrote this post earlier this year, since this novel was one I finished as we entered the new year. However, it’s never felt like the right time to post this for some reason but now, in light of Sickle cell awareness month,which was in September (US and UK), I thought now was a good time as ever.

Summary

This book, like a previous book I have reviewed (An American Marriage) looks at how far the boundaries of love in a relationship can be pushed before breaking. The main characters of this novel are young Nigerian spouses Yejide and Akin. The couple has been trying to get pregnant for a while now but to no avail. Happily in love and content, this would not actually be much of an issue for them were it not for gathering pressure from their in-laws to have children. In the traditional Nigerian culture, they belong to, children symbolise wealth and worth. Due to their attempt to conceive being unsuccessful, Akin’s mother suggests Akin get a second wife to solve this problem. This is only the start of a host of issues that unravel later down the line in this book.

Style

The narration alternates between the two partners although, if I’m not wrong, Yejide delivers slightly more of the story’s narration. Once you’re in the heart of the story, this will make more sense as ultimately, Stay with Me is a story about motherhood, love, loss, faith and hope. The story alternates also between two different time settings – one being modern-day Nigeria (2008) and the other being Nigeria in an earlier time of political instability i.e. coups and military dictatorships. Ayobami is not afraid to dig into how these political events affect the everyday lives of the character; something they regularly talk about with each other or with us via the narration. For example, when Yejide first discovers that a coup has taken place she has to decide whether it would be best to open her salon since she is unsure if staff, let alone customers, would turn up for business.

My thoughts

There are no likable characters in this story, everyone has their flaws, and to some extent suffers in some way because of them. For Yejide it’s her headstrong character and her lack of willingness to see any bad traits in her husband. On the other hand, for Akin, it is carelessness combined with the desire to control the life around him that ends up backfiring on him. Usually, I miss having someone to root for and enjoy getting to know more as I read along but that wasn’t the case here.

You know when a book sweeps you away, almost by surprise? Like wowza, that was unexpected – that is this book. It made me ponder on the importance of not being entirely defined by motherhood but the inevitability of being defined by it anyway. On the one hand, your kids won’t always be with you so your character cannot be based on them due to this factor. But simultaneously, motherhood will change you – how can you not be changed by the bringing of life into the world, and then having to suddenly handle this little creature that relies on you alone to live? The pain and sacrifice that shape such an experience is likely to never leave you the same – for better or for worse. This book boldly explores this beautifully and is highly recommended.

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More about sickle cell awareness month and the disorder itself can be found here

A major breakthrough was announced recently with a drug that would be the first Sickle cell treatment in 20 years – you can read more here on this amazing news.

We’re all walking paradoxes

Despite trying to categorise ourselves into many clear-cut boxes, quite often we’re full of paradoxical traits. It’s one of the things that makes getting to know other humans more, let alone yourself – so interesting. Many that know us well will learn and understand this, but for those that don’t it can often be a source of confusion, frustration or even resentment.

I see conflicting traits in myself quite often. For some example:

– I’m pretty hard working and proactive in my view; I love to plan, do research and make things happen. However, I can also be incredibly lazy at times, meaning things may slowly sink to the bottom of my to-do list that I mentally pledged to complete two weeks before.

– I also tend to be quite a realist; I don’t tend to tire of being a reminder about the potential ways an event can unfold or what history tells us about certain beliefs or ideas. Simultaneously, I can also be fairly fantastical; a trait that every now and then causes me to mould idealistic versions of people that widely differ from who they really are.

– Lastly, I love people; getting to share their struggles and joy; receive encouragement from their words when it seems I have none left to motivate myself with. However, I can also be quite antisocial and quiet, a trait that does sometimes make social situations hard to navigate and enjoy.

I doubt I’m alone – I think we all have these conflicting traits in us; some go under the radar of our consciousness and others we are fully aware of. Perhaps you love fiercely but can also be very spiteful if someone gets on your wrong side. Or maybe at times you can be shamelessly selfish whilst there are many moment you find yourself in where you’re moved with compassion for others. We tend to just paint a picture of consistency because that’s what makes sense to the world most in certain situations. For example, if I’m working on branding myself for a business I own, people want to know I’m dependable, a good leader and one that’s confident. They don’t want to know that I have moments of doubt and periods of low-confidence that make leading people hard. It may be very real, and very true but being upfront about it won’t necessarily get me clientele.

Yet, it feels quite important when we can to be honest about these conflicts within us; otherwise we perhaps fall into the habit of creating a version of ourselves for others that isn’t entirely truthful.

This is why having close people who you can expose all sides too without judgement is beneficial. Being able to freely be you and let your guard down around people -or even just one close person – is an incredible source of peace. Mentally, it’s like how a person might feel when they get finally home after a long day, loosen their tie, or remove their bra and just flop onto the sofa. Rest and ultimate comfort at last. I was reminded of this when reading the tweet above, since I think it articulates my thought very well – you don’t feel the need to censor yourself or put on a forced façade when you’re around the right people. You can be yourself in all your flawed, paradoxical glory- and that’s the way it should be.

Home: there’s no place like it

“They say home is where your heart is set in stone

It’s where you go when you’re alone

It’s where you go to rest your bones

It’s not just where you lay your head, it’s not just where you make your bed…”

Home by Gabrielle Aplin

Don’t you love travelling? Particularly as many of us have spent much of the last 18 months cooped indoors, the travelling bug has been gnawing away at us as people have just patiently waited for the moment they could jump on a train or plane again. I love the sense of discovery, especially when you go somewhere new. The overwhelming of the senses – smelling and tasting unfamiliar/new foods, witnessing the indescribable beauty of nature or city architecture, watching as residents come and go; it’s really fun.

However, I do always get to a point where that willingness to explore and absorb new things is threatening to expire. For me, at that point I long to be at home – somewhere familiar and snuggly where I can properly rest and eventually slide back into my normal routine. I understand this might be a rare feeling – I see on social media and speak to people all the time who have travelled for months upon months, or even years and never gotten tired of exploration. I even talked with a friend casually after church about having this feeling and she gave me an incredulous look. At the time I thought okay maybe I am weird, but perhaps this feeling is a good thing; it does have some benefits. When travelling back from an amazing holiday it makes the transition from rest -> back to business as usual a lot easier. Of course, it doesn’t mean the grass won’t always be greener; when I’m back home, making my way through my week, I will, every now and then, definitely wish I was back in country x and y, still on holiday and getting more sun and sleep. But 80% of the time I’m happy and grateful that my journey has come full circle and that I’m back and settled.

Home Sweet Home

The Gabrielle Aplin song quoted at the start of this post is one of my faves – it highlights that there is more to the concept of home then we think. The comfort that we associate with home can typically transcends a building or the four walls of one room. Home can be an escape but is also you’re an anchor. For some reason that feeling never properly dawns on me until I’m thrust into a new environment and blindly trying to find my way around – an experience that can be both simultaneously fun but frustrating. A funny example that comes to mind was when I was trying to reunite with my friends whilst in the States, in Manhattan (New York) and instead got completely lost. The reality check of not being in the UK, where I call home and where navigation personally comes a lot easier for starters, was never stronger than in that moment.

I can’t really explain it but often when you travel to a new place there is a lot of energy that has to be spent to gain a feeling of comfort, mainly because everything around you is unfamiliar. Whether voluntarily or by force, you’ve been uprooted from all you know and have to adapt so you can navigate yourself around confidently (even if level of confidence is fairly limited.) After a period of time its therefore nice to be able to just rest and return to somewhere familiar where things are easy, flow naturally for you are and known well.

Being rooted

I think being cooped up in my house this last year or so, as frustrating as it has sometimes been has also helped me become more grateful for having a place of stability in such a time of upheaval and unpredictability. It’s definitely a privilege to have somewhere – or even someone you can label as ‘home’. For those that are still on the journey to finding a home- in whatever form that may be – I pray God provides it for you soon so you can finally feel settled and at peace.