Eleanor Oliphant, lonely and literally scarred by the past, is desperate for a change, and to connect with someone, going whole weekends without speaking to a soul, other than the grocer who carries the vodka that helps her forget. At a concert, she sees a singer whom she thinks is the answer to everything she, and her tyrant mother, have ever wanted for her in a man. So the socially inept, sneaker-clad, make-up ignorant Eleanor sets out to learn about personal grooming in the most hilarious debacles anyone has ever encountered in a salon, ending with the poor waxing technician being slapped! Then a coworker who is more adept at social interaction, but more challenged at grooming, helps Eleanor to make a new friend of an elderly man, and to overcome her shyness and hermit routine. “A woman who scorns the conventions of polite society,” Eleanor Oliphant is hilarious, articulate, and tragic yet triumphant.
Jane Eyre is referenced in the book, and Eleanor seems to have a bit in common with Jane whom she describes as “a strange child, difficult to love, a lonely child left to deal with so much pain at a young age.”
Other books about socially challenged but intelligent individuals struggling with depression and mental scars are Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green has the same humorous approach to mental scars and issues, while Looking for Alaska deals with the before and after and searching for answers after a great tragedy.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson are both memoirs of a woman with a quick wit and socially awkward upbringing who overcomes life and tragedy with humor.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is about a cantankerous older man with a tragic past and little left to live for, who acquires new neighbors with young children, and in unwillingly aiding them several times, finds purpose in other people.
At her regular lunches with Raymond, Eleanor ordered a “frothy coffee and a cheese scone.” Here is my recipe for a very simple cheese scone or American biscuit.
- 2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold salted butter
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- Preheat oven to 400° F. Measure out flour and baking powder and pour into a large bowl. Cut butter into 8 pieces, and using a pastry cutter, a potato masher, or a fork, cut butter into flour until it is in small pieces, about the size of a pea. Then add the cheese and milk and stir together with a large spoon until a thick dough is formed.
- On a clean counter, pour about ¼ to ½ cup flour in a small pile and dump the dough onto it. Using a wooden rolling pin, roll dough out to about a quarter inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into triangles, or into rounds using a cup, if preferred. Place onto baking sheets, and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the tops begin to turn golden and the sides look fluffy and not raw. Allow to cool 2-4 minutes before serving. Serve with more butter or savory jam (like jalapeno).
- What were some of the social conventions or even common grooming habits women were used to that shocked or had to be learned by Eleanor?
- Eleanor felt sorry for beautiful people because beauty is “ephemeral, already slipping away. That must be difficult.” How is this ironic, and possibly reflective of how beautiful people probably saw her?
- Why did Eleanor become obsessed with the singer of the band as her future husband? What did they have in common that they were both probably used to, but for different reasons?
- Eleanor’s mother often went from extremes of extravagant and overindulgent, to starvation, insisting they “deserved the best of everything.” With what items did this extend and why did she do this?
- Raymond was fond of athletic footwear even at work, which Eleanor mentally mocked, yet how were her initial clothing choices less than standard as well? In what areas was Raymond more adept than she?
- Where Raymond’s mother lived, the houses were named after poets, such as Wordsworth Lane or Keats Rise. What authors did Eleanor feel her street would be named after and why? What author’s name would you pick for her, or for you?
- Eleanor’s mother’s philosophy on life was that it’s “all about taking decisive action, whatever you want to take, grab it. Whatever you want to bring an end, END IT. And live with the consequences.” What things did she grab or end, and what did Eleanor grab or end? How was this actually good advice for Eleanor in some ways?
- Why did it often help Eleanor to get out of bed in the morning knowing that her house plant needed her? Did she ever find a replacement?
- How did Laura help Eleanor by making her “shiny”? What had El. done for Laura?
- Why did little gestures (Raymond’s mother making tea without being asked, remembering Eleanor didn’t take sugar, Laura brought two biscuits with coffee for her) mean so much to her? What makes us take these things for granted?
- At the wedding, Eleanor was very frank about not wanting to accept a drink because she didn’t want to “spend two drinks’ worth of time” with the man offering. What other societal conventions challenged her (alternate the clothes you wear) or was she frank about, and why is complete honesty so uncommon? Did she perhaps lack the capacity to be polite or consider feelings, maybe as a result of being autistic or lacking in empathy?
- Raymond had also suffered the loss of his father. Eleanor agreed that “time only blunts the pain of loss. It doesn’t erase it.” Why is this? Had she done anything to stymie its healing?
- Why was it that “after the fire, I never managed to find anyone who could fit the spaces that had been created inside me”?
- Eleanor had always enjoyed reading, but “never been sure how to select appropriate material. How do you know which ones will match your tastes and interests?” And what methods had she tried?
- How was “Glen” like Eleanor, a “woman who knew her own mind and scorned the conventions of society? How were they perfect companions? Would Eleanor still have been described this way at the beginning of the book?
- Did Eleanor “deserve nice things” as Raymond said?