Eileen was released in 2015, so I was surprised when I was offered an Advanced Review Copy (ARC). I assume I received this book so that the author, Ottessa Moshfegh, receives publicity for her latest book, Homesick for Another World. No matter. I am glad I was given an ARC, for Eileen is one heck of a book, shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and winner of the PEN/Hemingway debut fiction award. Eileen is dark. It is the darkest version of a dark comedy. It is a literary psychology thriller except unlike most in this genre, the thrill is not in the plot, but in the language.
The story is narrated in the first person when Eileen is an old woman telling us about a time in her life when she was 24-years old. She was a rather dull young woman in appearance as well as in personality. Although the year was 1964, there was nothing hip about Eileen, there were no go-go boots in her closet. Eileen was anorexic and hid herself in her deceased mother’s matronly clothes. She had mousy brown hair held in place with a childish barrette and wore a mousy brown coat everywhere. She went to college for a year and a half, was called home to take care of her dying mother and never went back to school. She continued to live at home with her alcoholic father who did not leave the house. He was an ex-cop who was verbally abusive to his daughter. Their only interactions came when she made her daily trip to the liquor store to keep him in his continuous gin stupor. She had no girlfriends and never had a boyfriend though she longed for both. Clearly, Eileen had a boring life as well as a boring appearance. She may at first seem like a predictable character, but the reader learns making any assumptions about Eileen would be dead wrong.
Eileen was an extremely odd young woman. Her good luck charm was a dead mouse in her broken down car’s glove compartment. She worked at a boy’s juvenile correctional facility. She had no empathy for the boys even though she could see they were being abused. She most likely had a sociopathic personality and hated everyone including herself. Still, it is hard to hate Eileen. She was so lonely and only cared about escaping her life in a small New England town. Her dream was to run away to New York City. Being a thriller, of course, there is a crime that involves her escape plan (a crime that I cannot mention in this review as it is the big secret in the novel.) When a young attractive woman was hired at the correctional facility Eileen made her very first friend. It was her friend that initiated the soon to happen mysterious crime. It is not the crime scenes that you will find so interesting, but rather it is watching Eileen’s psychological unraveling. This book is not for everyone, but if you like sinister character studies, you will enjoy Eileen.
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