Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (Man Booker Long List)


…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.