Eleanor and Me: How Eleanor Oliphant Changed My Life

Gemma Oxley/2019

Gemma Oxley/2019

‘Fire tests gold and adversity tests the brave.’

I first read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine last year in the spring. I had taken myself off to the bookshop to celebrate the handing in of assignments and finally read for fun again. Having only heard good things, I didn’t think twice about buying it.

Focusing on the life of Eleanor Oliphant, this novel follows her through a time of pivotal change. Eleanor is a troubled and lonely woman, who is caught in the solitude of being a victim of trauma and trying to navigate a modern world. She has her rituals, two bottles of vodka at the weekend, The Archers on weekday evenings, an adolescent crush on someone she has never met and a very formal way of thinking and speaking. She is quirky and difficult, whilst being unintentionally funny and endearing. She feels real, almost as if she has been waiting patiently in the wings for you to open the book.

What I love most is the theme of kindness that has been woven throughout the book. The small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness that have the power to change lives, and they do. It is one small act that begins the story and starts Eleanor’s process of change, opening herself up to being kind to herself as well as to others. I’ve always found an absence of kindness in the novels I read, especially the small acts that surround us every day. I found it so refreshing to witness these small acts, as small as a plate of biscuits to accompany a cup of tea and a warm hug from a mother. Through these acts Eleanor feels ‘a little glow inside – not a blaze, more like a small, steady candle’ which as the reader, makes me feel just as warm, as if that little glow is growing within me as her life unfolds and changes.

Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things.
— Eleanor Oliphant

The growth and development of Eleanor is something else entirely. As she learns and grows she stumbles, but at the end of the day she is the agent of her own life and eventually manages to pick herself back up again. She reminds us that no matter what may have befallen us in our past, that is never our defining feature and doesn’t have to be. She has the power to change a life that has been off kilter since an unnamed childhood trauma which she only ever calls ‘before’ and ‘after’. It takes encouragement, kindness and a lot of learning to get to the point in her life when she can recognise that she needs help. She manages to take the leap and gets it, all while never giving up the person she is.

You’ve made me shiny, Laura… Thank you for making my shiny.
— Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor taught me how to accept past experiences and that whilst it might be hard, letting people into your life and being brave enough to reach out and to be vulnerable is one of the most important things we can do. She taught me that you are allowed to take up space when you’re sad or lonely or hurt and you don’t have to always make yourself small when ugly emotions settle within you. She taught me that it is okay to break and admitting this and seeking help doesn’t make you weak. It makes you strong.

‘In the end, what matters is this: I survived.’

by Gemma Oxley