Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Publisher: Penguin Random House
One of the shortlisted books from this year’s Man Booker Prize, Eileen, By Ottessa Moshfegh is relentlessly bold, dark and imaginative. The writing style is smart with vivid descriptions, the protagonist’s thoughts are interwoven subtly yet are hard hitting. Eileen is a psychological thriller that is novel in its concept and is deserving of the praise that it has received.
The year is 1964 and Eileen Dunlop is a young woman of 24, living in Boston, who suffers from extreme lack of self-esteem and regard for herself and has spent nearly all her life in bitter self-loathing. Stuck with an alcoholic father who is stubborn, harsh and disrespectful, Eileen, dreams of escaping her miserable life. Even at work, Eileen, doesn’t get respite since her co-workers occasionally pass comments and have a deep disliking for her. Eileen works at a juvenile correctional facility where she sees young boys wearing out their sentences for heinous crimes committed. Her time at the prison is spent preparing meaningless questionnaires for the mothers who visit the inmates and she often daydreams about being in love with the prison guards.
Everybody was broken. Everybody suffered. Each of those sad mothers wore some kind of scar- a badge of hurt to attest to the heartbreak that her child, her own flesh and blood, was growing up in prison.
Eileen thrives on pills and alcohol and indulges in laxatives to control her bowel movements. She’s obsessed with her body in a way that’s derogatory to even herself. She hates the way she looks and suffers from an inferiority complex. Then one day, Rebecca arrives and her life is changed forever. Without realising, Eileen, overwhelmed by Rebecca’s charms is unknowingly dragged into a crime she has nothing to do with. Things start getting ugly and Eileen soon comes to the realisation that there is no escape. However, Eileen slowly begins to find clarity and her life takes a different turn.
Things feel very real out here, don’t they? There’s simply no fantasy. And no sentimentality. That’s what fascinates me. There is history and pride, but very little imagination here.
I simply love how twisted the entire novel is and how psychotic most of the characters are. Eileen is one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve come across and it makes the story more appealing. Her sense of self is demeaning, she’s empathetic but repellent and is constantly at war with herself. The following passage perfectly sums up Eileen’s unforgettable nature:
I’d never learned how to relate to people, much less how to speak up for myself. I preferred to sit and rage quietly. I’d been a silent child, the kind to suck my thumb long enough to buck out my front teeth. I was lucky they did not buck out too far, still of course I felt my mouth was horse-like and ugly, and so I barely smiled. When I did smile, I worked very hard to keep my top lip from riding up, something that required great restraint, self-awareness, and self-control. The time I spent disciplining that lip, you would not believe. I truly felt that the inside of my mouth was such a private area, caverns and folds of wet parting flesh, that letting anyone see into it was just as bad as spreading my legs. People did not chew gum as regularly then as we do now. That was considered very childish. So I kept a bottle of Listerine in my locker and swished it often, and sometimes swallowed it if I didn’t think I could get to the ladies’ room sink without having to open my mouth to speak. I didn’t want anyone to think I was susceptible to bad breath, or that there were any organic processes occurring inside my body at all. Having to breathe was an embarrassment in itself. This was the kind of girl I was
There is a sense of uneasiness and an air of uncertainty in Moshfegh’s writing that makes the readers curious. Her writing is stylishly crafted and is crisp. Eileen is a story is that is uniquely bizzare and if you’re into psychological thrillers then you shouldn’t miss out on this one.