Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (Man Booker Long List)

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…I couldn’t be bothered to deal with fixing things. I preferred to wallow in the problem, dream of better days.

If you look closely at the bottom of the cover you will see the headlights of a Dodge, driving through a wintry December night, and you would never know what it contains. But, you might wonder what is inside now that I’ve presented the situation, and all I’d be willing to disclose is that Eileen is driving this car. Eileen is driving far away from a life of passivity which she has lived for twenty-four years.

Her mother has died. Her sister has gone off, wearing thick black eyeliner, to live with her boyfriend. Her father, once a policeman, is now a drunk living in a broken recliner pulled into the kitchen where he can keep warm by the stove.

I kept chastising Eileen in my mind, wondering why she didn’t clean their house; instead she let the dust accumulate, the dishes lie unwashed, the refrigerator remain mostly bare. She’d buy the bottles of gin her father demanded, eat mayonnaise and bread sandwiches, and wear her mother’s clothes to her job at the prison.

It was a place for adolescents, young men who had stolen or killed, who needed therapy more than incarceration.

The parallels are quite sharp. Eileen lives in a prison of sorts as well, a cold and cruel home which does not, nor did it ever, contain the love and affirmation she needed. Her social graces are stunted, to such a degree that some readers might perceive her as crazy. But, I never saw her that way. I saw her as lonely and sad and stunted because of her circumstances which could only produce severe insecurity.

What courage it takes to overcome the inertia of a downtrodden life. Her beautiful acquaintance, Rebecca, seems to offer friendship and solutions. But it is up to Eileen to bring about a new future, one with more hope, although she is the only one she can ever count on.

Here ends the first book I’ve read from the Man Booker prize long list, a list which promises novels of unique content exquisitely written such as this book is.

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14 comments

  1. I read the ARC of this one long before anyone was giving it the praise it deserves. I loved this dark compulsive story. Hoping it wins and so happy to read your review.

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    1. How smart of you to have read it before the release of the long list! Describing it as dark and compulsive is spot on. I’m not sure how I feel about it winning as I haven’t read the others, but I can tell them power of her story will stay with me for a long time. Which is always the mark of an excellent writer, to me.

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  2. I do hope I have better luck with this on my second try. When I tried to read it this spring, I think I was expecting more of a thriller and got frustrating at how slow it was. Perhaps now that I know what to expect, I’ll be better prepared to accept it for what it is. At any rate, we’ll be in for some interesting discussions about it!

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    1. If I remember correctly, you mentioned something about your library copy being mildewed, and that would indeed be off putting. I came to this book not knowing what to expect, and I was a bit surprised to encounter the “mystery” aspect. I was more interested in Eileen herself, and how she concluded this episode of her life. Love that she ended up being so empowered, but we’ll save the in depth discussion for Twitter messaging lest I spoil the novel for anyone here.

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      1. The mildewed book was The Sellout, which also had my general tone-deafness to comedy working against it. It’s definitely possible, though, that expectations were part of my problem with this. I’ll be interested to see how it goes this time!

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        1. I’m a third of the way into The Sellout now, and while I appreciate Beatty’s incredible skill with words, I am less admirable of the typical blame. But, we’ll talk about that when I am finished, perhaps. I hope both of these novels are better for you the second time around.

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    1. Like almost every Man Booker contender I read, this one is much more thought provoking than a mere review of mine can convey. I’ve been thinking about it every since I finished, it’s so interesting!

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  3. This one and Serious Sweet caught my eye, I may start to read it in the autumn, now I have other reading plans… I guess I was never seriously interested in reading the Man Booker short list…

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