Was it worse or better to find yourself lonely in a big city rather than in a small town or a village?
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine started with two related ideas. The first was loneliness, an issue that’s thankfully now starting to receive more attention as we begin to understand more about its often devastating consequences. I remembered reading an article in which a young woman living in a big city said that, unless she went out of her way to make arrangements in advance, she’d often find herself not speaking to another human being from the time she left work on Friday night until her return to the office on Monday morning, and not by choice. I started to wonder how such a situation could come about. When loneliness is discussed, it’s often the context of the elderly, but I began to think about how it might manifest itself in younger people, and whether the issues might be slightly different for them. Was it harder to talk about, or even to identify, because their loneliness didn’t result from, say, the death of a spouse after decades of marriage, or becoming housebound due to age-
related illness? Did social media have an impact and, if so, was it positive or negative?
Was it worse or better to find yourself lonely in a big city rather than in a small town or a village? In the end, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how a young woman with no family nearby could find herself in the situation described in the article; moving to a new city, she might rent a one bedroom flat or a bedsit, take a job in a small firm where she had nothing in common with her colleagues. Narratively, the possibilities began to intrigue me. The other strand that helped inform the book was the idea of social awkwardness. Only a few fortunate people are blessed with the ability to make effortless, charming small talk with strangers, and the rest of us just try to muddle along as best we can. However, most people have, at some point, found themselves struggling to maintain a more than usually stilted exchange with someone whose conversation and demeanour just seem a bit… awkward.
A lonely person, a slightly awkward person, and someone in whom loneliness and social awkwardness had become entwined and self-perpetuating. I wanted to tell the story of how this had happened to her, and of what happened to her next, and this became the story of Eleanor Oliphant.
On the 7th July we want to spread the love for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and embrace the book’s message by sharing a small act of kindness. Share your #SmallActsofOliphant for a chance to win a signed copy.