Tag Archives: Humor

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman

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Books like this one make it easy to fulfil my promise of writing reviews. A much recommended book by two discerning reader friends (Devna & Kiranjeet: Thanks from the bottom of my bibliophilic heart), I downloaded it onto my kindle.

The story is rather straightforward. It revolves around the main protagonist, most obviously, Eleanor Oliphant and her dealings with the world. Ms Oliphant, as she would appreciate my addressing her, is not your run-in-the-mill kinda girl, she’s got issues. And her issues are not minor skirmishes with the world we all face, for she is a girl who looks at the world with different lenses from yours and mine. If you’ve read the Rosie Project or seen The Big Bang Theory, you would recognise in Eleanor similar oddly charming and socially challenging characteristics as Don Tillman and Sheldon Cooper. But, where the difference lies is that there lurks a sinister shadow in Eleanor’s life which the writer peels away layer by layer.

Eleanor Oliphant is 30 years old and a weird creature of habits. She needs her days to run just so. She has her meals in a certain way and at certain timings. She has worked at her first job for 9 years and has not ever thought of making any changes. One day Eleanor is thrown out of her comfort zone of her regulated schedules by two incidents: the first is when she sees the man she decides is the one she must marry and the second when she is drawn into helping an old man who has collapsed on the street. Both these incidents compel her to begin making serious changes in the way she lives. While the romantic interlude is planned by her in meticulous detail of self-improvement. The other results in throwing her life into a kilter. Where Gail Honeyman walks away my five star rating is how she makes Eleanor slowly creep into my heart as living, breathing relatable character.

Eleanor’s is a story about loneliness so intense it took my breathe away. She is 30 years old and asks: I do exist, don’t I? It often feels as if I’m not here, that I’m a figment of my own imagination. She has not a single friend in the world, there are days when she is lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether her to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. She has worked in the same firm for 9 years and the threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday, but no one knows anything about her. Besides a social worker no one has ever walked over the threshold of her home. This is where the story begins. Honeyman points out a facet of modern day society which is alarmingly true: 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.

This also a heart-warming tale of friendship, of finding there are people who care, if we let them. Eleanor finds in Raymond a friend with whom she finds the gentle heat of something opening, the way some flowers spread out in the morning at the sight of the sun. I knew what was happening. It was the unscarred piece of my heart. It was big enough to let in a bit of affection. There was still a tiny bit of room.

But, for Eleanor Oliphant to be completely fine till she faces the sinister demons lurking on every page of her life. She needs to acknowledge the ghosts of her childhood in order to overcome the scars on her heart, just as thick and disfiguring as those on her face. Despite her self-imposed loneliness hope lingers in her heart, as she confesses in her own words, I hope some undamaged tissue remains, a patch through which love can come in and flow out. I hope.

Reading up till now you might consider the book to be a sad and heavy story to be picked up with care. On the contrary Honeyman has incorporated delightful moments with Eleanor navigating the perplexing world. Eleanor’s self-improvement endeavours are hilarious, her observations on bikini waxes, manicures and high heels and why Starbucks needs to write her name on a cup had me in splits. She is shamelessly judgemental and delightfully perfect in her assessments of the human foibles. Her tactless comments are so refreshing, and to be honest we all think the same stuff as her, but just don’t utter it out aloud.

Some books leave you dissatisfied with the way they end. Some may feel the same for this one, however, I was not. Gail Honeyman has, with the end of the book done what is rarely done by authors: she has acted with a mature restraint. Would love to know if you agree. Read the book and do let me know.

NO, Not an Easy Word to Say

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A friend, relative or co-worker makes an unreasonable or for that matter a reasonable demand and even though all your brain cells are screaming at decibels that bats can hear, you hear the word ‘Yes’ pop out your mouth. If that’s you then you suffer from the malady called ‘wanting to please.’ You want to shove the yes back from wherever it popped out from your addled sense of being a do-gooder, but it’s too late and you are committed.

Those who suffer with this sickness, render themselves incapable of saying ‘No’ when they should. There are many predicaments that they find themselves in thanks to not using this small word that is only two letters and should be the easiest to utter, right? Wrong, for it is a small word loaded with heavy ramifications. You suffer the guilt of letting down, hurting or angering someone.

My better half was riddled with this disease early in our marriage. To my consternation he would by Wednesday have committed to at least 3 lunches and 4 dinners for the weekend. Now I wouldn’t mind hopping from one lunch to another on a Saturday and then again a leisurely one on Sunday and I could also do two dinners on Saturday but two on Sunday would be a bit of a stretch the next day being a working one. Where the telling of this tale becomes a tad bit complicated is that ‘I’ was the one who was expected to provide the lunches and the dinners all on the same Saturday. Now stretching myself really and I mean really thin I could pull off the cooking and the baking, I am pretty competent in that department even though I do say so myself. Learning from one Saturday when I did try to make it work the problem besides my exhausted self was that the guests would be so diverse, making the afternoon and then the evening not only tedious but rather very awkward as well. Following that one disaster, on Fridays when enlightened by well-meaning friends or relatives calling to confirm that they would indeed be coming to enjoy my well put together parties, I had to do the nasty task of uninviting at least a few. People would call him up, invite themselves over and he just couldn’t say NO. You can imagine the kind of rows that we would have over the issue till he resolved the situation to his own liking. Still unable to say ‘No’ he would tell people ‘I’ll ask her to call you back.’ That is when I discovered I too suffered from the same malady. He only had to tell me that so and so called and I would start hyperventilating about returning the call. Then I would further go and call up so and so and hear how long it had been since we last caught up (2 weekends back) and how I was such a great host and blah, blah, blah. Needless to say I would be slaving away in a hot kitchen on my well-earned Saturday. The only wise thing I did was I did not call up the other so and so who would have also called. I always wondered if I was the last of the hosts in my ‘small’ world since I was never invited anywhere.

At work too the same inability to say No landed me with extra work that the co-worker so sweetly asked me to help her with. In my head would be the thought “Oh really, and I have all the time in the world and nowhere to go but do your bit of the task also.” And the mouth would open and out popped the dreaded, “Yes, sure you go ahead and take care, let me know if I can do any more.” The brain would later berate me, “Seriously? Offering more help!!”

There are many more incidents far too many that cannot be shared so publically else I will lose the few friends I have left. This made us realize that the inability to say No cost both of us many difficulties due to our prioritizing other people’s needs before ours. Learning the hard way we made some rules that once implemented did result in uttering the No a lot simpler. Here are some, one will do at a time but in extreme cases I’ve needed to pull out all stops and use all at once too.

  1. Take a deep breath when a request is made, helps buy time and lets you think before you put your own head in the noose. Think about your Priorities – committing to this person will take away time that you need to spend with my family.
  2. Ask questions about what is being asked, pretend you are looking for more clarity which discourages some.
  3. Distract with rambling about the different tasks that you have on that day and how you may be able to fit their ask into the calendar but you’re not sure when, you’ll try and blah, blah, blah.
  4. Don’t begin by saying sorry, be polite but firm. It’s a good thing to be nice but remember there’s a difference in being nice and being a pushover.
  5. Be honest. 99% of the time it works.
  6. Then there are some sweetly persistent people who will just reason with everything you say and try to wheedle a yes out of you. Cut the phone and switch it off. Later you can say you dropped your phone from the balcony and it shattered into a million pieces. Don’t have a balcony? The tub or even the bog will do to destroy the phone. No one is coming to check if that actually happened.

Whatever you need to do to say this very difficult word remember that, By saying yes when you need to say No, you cripple the most important relationship in your life: the relationship between you and you. – Nea Joy