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Only the Lonely: Loner Women in Novels

Heather's picture

When I was compiling my list of essential reads, I realized that I’m drawn to books with awkward, loner heroines.  Not surprising, given I spend most of my free time with my nose in a book and I am usually found hiding in the bathroom at parties.  Thankfully, there have been slew of great books featuring lonesome ladies that I’ve read lately (instead of, you know, actually having to talk to a person).  Below are three of my favorites: 

 Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. 

Eleanor is 30 years old, lives alone in Glasgow, and has a finance clerk job at a design firm.  Lacking in social skills, Eleanor is frequently the brunt of office jokes and has no friends or social life.  She lives a solitary life, except for weekly calls to her emotionally abusive mother.  However, when Eleanor sees the “love of her life.” singer Johnny Lomond, she begins a campaign to improve herself so she can begin a relationship with him.  Of course, she hasn't talked to him yet...

Eleanor strikes up an unlikely friendship with Raymond, a schlubby nerd who does IT at her work, when they both help save the life of an elderly gentleman.  This book has some genuine darkness in it.  Eleanor deals with her emotional pain through a highly routinized schedule and weekend binges of vodka.  She’s suffered some truly horrific childhood trauma, and thus has an extremely dysfunctional view of human relationships and her worth as person.

However, this book is also seriously funny.  The book is narrated by Eleanor, and I enjoyed her bleakly funny and warped worldview.  She can be both naïve and caustic at the same time.  Readers will enjoy Eleanor’s journey towards healing and letting other people into her life. 

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner.

The first of the DS Manon series, following Manon Bradshaw- a tough and skilled British detective.  While Manon is unwavering in her confidence on the job, she is also late 30s, single and hating it.  Manon’s love life consists mainly of a string of terrible Internet dates that become one night stands.   Because of her demanding job, Manon has little of a social life and most of her closest relationships are with coworkers.  She spends her lonely nights listening to the police radio. 

One evening a call comes in for a missing Cambridge student, Edith Hind.  Manon can’t resist speeding to the scene to land the exciting case.  Hind is from a prominent British family, a do-gooder with a dreamy (but boring) fiancé, and a devastated best friend. 

This novel is equal parts character study as novel.  You get to understand Manon, her idealistic partner Davy, and Edith’s mom, Miriam.  I especially like the wrap-up of Manon’s story in this novel.  It ends happily for her, but not in the way you’d expect.  The sequel to this book, Persons Unknown, comes out in July.   

Losing It by Emma Rathbone.

Julia Greenfield is stuck.  She works at a job she hates and lives in depressing Washington, DC suburb where she doesn’t know a soul.  But by far, Julia’s biggest problem, at least in her mind, is that at 26-years-old, Julia is still a virgin.  She’s not saving herself for marriage, things just never really happened for her.  And Julia takes it as a sign that she is utterly flawed and doomed as a human being.

To shake things up, Julia moves in with her Aunt Vivian in North Carolina, and focuses intensely on losing her virginity.  As you might suspect, this largely goes horribly awry, including one truly terrible Internet date.  When Julia finds out her Aunt Vivian is still a virgin at age 58, she becomes even further unglued; hoping if she can find out what went wrong for Vivian, she can spare herself the same fate. 

Julia is a completely myopic character, and often does thoughtless things to those around her (especially Aunt Viv).  Still, I had immense sympathy for a character so lost and so convinced that is she could just change one thing, her life would be fixed.  She’s a woman on a terribly misguided mission.  The book is hilariously cringe-inducing, recommended for fans of the TV shows Girls or Curb Your Enthusiasm. Losing It is a dark, funny ride, and is definitely more of a psychological comedy than a sex romp.