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This trend towards ‘oddball’ narrators is typified by Graeme Simsion’s Rosie Project trilogy, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and Sarah Haywood’s The Cactus.
The narrators of these books are all what might be referred to as ‘high-functioning’ individuals – they are intelligent and able to make rational decisions. However, they find themselves frustrated that others don’t apply the same level of logic, instead being led by emotion and swayed by others’ opinions.
For this reason, the protagonists in these stories choose highly independent – and often lonely – lifestyles. They become experts at hiding their true feelings from those around them, shunning social gatherings and baulking at the idea of conventional relationships. This, of course, is where the stories find their driving force: as the characters are thrust into ever closer contact with those around them, humour and pathos emerge.
These stories typically reach a heart-warming conclusion when the central character succeeds in overcoming their loneliness by learning to obey certain social norms: abandoning unusual eating habits, attending parties, or applying makeup in the Bobby Brown approved fashion.
At heart, however, these books remain wedded to the inescapable twenty-first century philosophy that, in the words of Eleanor Oliphant, ‘it’s extremely important to stay true to who you really are’. They encourage us to look fondly on the unique perspectives of the narrators, and to cherish their individuality. Often the main character’s ‘salvation’ comes when someone within the story is also willing to love them for who they are, to accept them despite their flaws, and to show them kindness in a way that encourages true connection.
There is truth here for Christian readers. We claim to follow a leader who refused to bow to the social conventions of his day, instead reaching out with love and acceptance to those the world had excluded, outlawed, or written off. But acceptance itself was not the endpoint for Jesus’ ministry, and it is not the endpoint for us either. Rather, a true experience of God’s love is itself transformational. Knowing and being known by him in our innermost being offers us unparalleled freedom to become more truly ourselves, as we were created and are restored to be – and it’s a change that goes far deeper than lobster dinners or a new lipstick.
Rachel Helen Smith
Rachel lives in Durham, where she attends King’s Church.
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