“Eleanor Oliphant”: diversity, loneliness and hope

I’ve always loved reading, but sometimes the books I’ve had on my hand didn’t leave a deep marking inside of me. This isn’t certainly the case of the last one I read, “Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine“,  the debut novel by the Scottish Gail Honeyman, a little “literary sensation” that’s about to become a movie as well.

"Eleanor Oliphant in completely fine"

“Eleanor oliphant is completely fine”: the plot

Don’t worry: no spoiler! 🙂 I don’t mean to spoil your pleasure to enjoy this engaging and very well written novel. I’m just telling you something about the story of Eleanor, a character that you’ll hardly forget. Eleanor is an English young woman living an apparently “banal” life, between her job as an accountant at a graphic design the loneliness of her flat, with a plant as her only company. Eleanor is shy, not interested in being trendy, nor in socialize with her colleagues, who, after all, don’t do much to create a less than formal relationship with her. They see her as a “strange being”, due to her old-fashioned clothes, her sloppy appearance (marked by a scar spoiling her face, inheritance of the event that changed her life forever). Then, they make fun of her, isolating her and, at most, addressing her jokes and uncool nicknames. Nevertheless, as the novel’s title claims, she “is completely fine”. Or, at least, so she thinks, until, thanks to a series of events that I’m not unveiling, she’ll start to realize that there’s life beyond the borders of her routine and, gradually,  she’ll also learn to deal with her own spectres.

eleanor, “one of us”

” I’ve been the focus of far too much attention in my time. Pass me over, move along please, nothing to see here!”

I’ve found in this quote, one of my favourite ones in the novel, one of the traits that make me feel emotionally closer to Eleanor: indeed, like her, I’ve spent most of my life just longing for being invisible, not raising other people’s morbid curiosity. But, just like Eleanor, I’m gradually learning to make peace with myself, forgiving me for what I’m not guilty of and look at other people from a different perspective, not necessarily as potential “threats”, but also as “opportunities“, in every way.

So, here’s why I suggest you, shouldn’t you do it already, to read this wonderful novel: a breath of fresh air and a glimmer of hope for everyone. Since, in the end, there’s a little bit of Eleanor in everyone of us.

“Non volevo morire vergine”, the sentimental education of a disabled woman

All of us have a more or less long list of books that, for any reason, have won a special place in our hearts. My personal list also includes “Non volevo morire vergine” (“I didn’t mean to die a virgin”), the last book by Barbara Garlaschelli, issued a few months ago and already (and deservedly!) a little literary success.

"Non volevo morire vergine"

The book tells the story of the writer, who became a quadriplegic when she was 15 after having bumped into a stone while she was plunging into the sea. Barbara Garlaschelli had already told her story in “Sirena (mezzo pesante in movimento)” (“Siren, heavy truck in movement”, a title that, in itself, suggests the self-deprecating tone the woman uses to describe her own condition, softening its hardest and more dramatic sides). But, this time, the perspective is quite different. In “Non volevo morire vergine”, Barbara Garlaschelli shares with her readers her sentimental and sexual education, which, soon after her accident, had seemed to her a chapter that, inevitably, was meant to stay close even being actually open.

Page by page, in “Non volevo morire vergine”, we follow Barbara’s evolution from her condition of “self-hidden” in her own armour to a young woman who becomes aware of the fact that, despite her accident and her being a disabled, still keeps her own femininity and, together with it, the possibility to please, seduce, stimulate desire and – why not?- even love in men.  So, she starts a series of more or less engaging relationships (there are also some asshole, as in everyone’s life, disabled or not), ‘til she meets her Love with the capital L.

Virginity Barbara wants (and succeeds) to get rid of isn’t just the strictly sexual one, but has a wider meaning:

“A virgin not just in my body, but also of experiences, life, mistakes, successes, failures, journeys, sun”

Barbara Garlaschelli tells everything using a light style, which invites to read, but without too much censorship. It, sometimes, can floor some readers, who have still, more or less consciously, a radicated taboo that sees disabled people (and, particularly, women) as beings who, at most, inspire pity, but sure don’t have, as the writer says, “right to physical and mental pleasure, joys of life, in all its declensions” (with everything it implies, also in terms of the incomplete fulfilment of serious policies about accessibility and inclusion).

What led the writer to share such an intimate part of her life through the pages of “Non volevo morire vergine” isn’t exhibitionism, but rather her will to transmit a strong message, not just addressed to the community as a whole, but also to so many people who, more or less voluntarily, renounce love or even, simply, pleasure, convinced (maybe, not just by themselves) they cannot be subject to it.

“The Labyrinth of Spirits”, a story (also) about disability

Since I’m keen on reading and Spain (particularly, Barcelona, with its magnetic fascination), could I have miss out the last novel of “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books” cycle by the great Carlos Ruiz Zafón? No, of course! So, let’s talk about “The Labyrinth of Spirits” …  Are you ready?

"The Labyrinth of Spirits"

Scarred by adversities of her own life, which forced her to come in close contact, since her earliest youth, with the darkest expressions of human soul (working at the controversial Leandro Montalvo’s disposal), Alicia is a “dark lady” ahead of her time, who faces the world wearing a mask made of indifference and invulnerability, convinced that she doesn’t deserve anyone’s love (because, after all, she is the first who isn’t able to love herself) and that, when meets people who she feels, in spite of herself, bonded with, the best thing she can do for them is getting away from them, to avoid exposing them to the depths she has, inevitably, learnt to live with. Despite it, Alicia is still a woman who doesn’t gives up feeling like that and being it to the fullest in front of others, when she always shows up wearing expensive and refined clothes and accessories, made up and well-groomed to the nines… and, obviously, equipped with a gun and with her own instinct, which never misses a shot and helps her to getting by even in the most complicated cases.

The Labyrinth of Spirits” also tells (in an as much sensitive as realistic way) about Alicia’s fragility, even under a physical perspective, about the physical pain she lives with trying not to give up to the temptation to silence it stuffing herself with drugs. But that’s just a trait of her character, and not even the most important one, compared with her persistency, slyness, sensuality and attractiveness. It doesn’t often happen to hear talking about a disabled individual in these terms, does it?

“Me before you”: a story about love and disability

There are books that leave you indifferent, others which leave a temporary mark, others which change your life. To me, the latter category includes  “Me before you” by Jojo Moyes, a story about love and disability narrated with sensitivity, but with hiding the hardness of daily life for who has a first-hand experience of disability and for the people who stay near him, or at least try to do so.

"Me before you"

The main characters of “Me before you” are Will Traynor, a young ambitious manager working in the London City who is quadriplegic due to an accident suffered while crossing the street, and Louisa Clark, a small-town girl who, due to a combination of circumstances, is hired as his “morale” assistant. Apparently, they couldn’t be more different.  He, handsome, rich and successful, regrets the life he used to live to the fullest, at work, during his spare time, in his liaisons, and, being unable to accept to have lost it forever, has decided to terminate his own life in a Swiss clinic. She, a typical English middle-class girl, who has spent her life in the small town gravitating towards the castle, in the shade of her younger sister, who is pretty, smart and idolized by their parents, who, on the contrary, always holding against Louisa her mediocrity and lack of ambition.

Yet, the gears of fate lead them to meet, when Will’ parents hire her, despite her total lack of the skills needed to assist a quadriplegic man. But she won’t actually be Will’s assistant (for that, there’s another qualified man), but his “motivator”: they expect her to infect” him with her chat and enthusiasm and to lead him to give up his suicide plans. At first, their relationship is almost non-existent, due to her embarrassment and his scornful and insulting words. But, gradually, between them arises a complicity which, in everyone’s eyes, goes well beyond mere liking. She even convinces him to take a vacation in a dreamy place. But, when everything seems going toward the classic Hollywood “happy end”, with the two of them kissing on an exotic beach, reality fall again between them with all its unavoidability, ‘til the final I won’t unveil, should you haven’t read the book.

Will could have been happy, if he had been surrounded by the right people, if he had been given the chance of being himself, instead of the Man on the Wheelchair, nothing more than a variety of symptoms, pitiful

Then, what “Me before you” is? Just a romantic love story, with the added “detail” of his disability? A tear-jerking story for those who are willing to cry? No, it’s much more than this: a polyphonic story, to show the point of view of all the involved people, from Will and Louisa, to Nathan, the healthcare assistant, to Will’s parents, to Louisa’s sister. A story that tells the daily life of severely disabled people, their effort to live with their own condition and to accept to be dependant in every way from other people, their difficulty to be treated casually by those who, in the novel, are called “AB” (the “able-bodied”), the fear to let themselves go to feelings  and be a weight or a limit for their loved ones, including companions (if any).

It’s also a chance to think about a subject that’s still a taboo: euthanasia and the right, for who has a severe and terminal disease, to terminate his sufferings in dignity. In the novel, all the aspects of the issue are analysed, taking into account the points of view of the involved individuals: the patient, the woman in love with him, his family, the doctors, the public opinion

Me before you” isn’t an exhortation to suicide, to throw in the towel. It’s quite the contrary. It’s, above all, an opportunity for everyone to better understand the disabled people reality, their life, their fears and wishes. A chance not to miss at cinemas too, since in a few days the movie will come out. Meanwhile, I’ll start reading its sequel!