Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh – Audible Book Review by Pat V.
Early on in this book the narrator, Eileen, reminiscing about a couple of weeks during the 1960s, she tells us that she then “liked twisted things. I hated almost everything. I was very unhappy and angry all the time.” Now in her 70s, she remembers in detail that period when she was working as a secretary at a correctional facility for boys. Unhappy in her job and ignored by her colleagues, she longed for a romantic relationship but returned home each evening to a frustrated life in her dingy house which she shared with her abusive, alcoholic, ex-cop father.
One of the six books on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize 2016, EILEEN is the first full length novel by American writer, Ottessa Moshfegh. It is a dark and unsettling story about a troubled woman living on a knife edge and capable of anything. The narrator tells us from the start that she is now living in New York and that something traumatic happened that caused her flee from her dull job and life in Xville (she refuses to give her home town a name, feeling that it is so nondescript that it doesn’t deserve to be identified) but it is not until the very last pages that the full story is revealed.
Eileen is not an easy person to like. Disgusted by her looks and obsessed by her bodily functions, she spends her working day making our meaningless questionnaires for the inmates and their parents and taking pleasure in their confusion and distress. Her evenings are spent lying on her attic bed, fingering herself, leafing thorough porn magazines and drinking some of the gin she brings home every day to keep her father comatose. Her weekends are spent fantasising about, and sometimes stalking, one of the prison guards, Randy, who hardly even notices her at work.
If she has a quality, it is her honesty. She never tries to excuse or explain herself. She feels dragged down by the undercurrent of her life and while she does sometimes speculate that she might one day be able to escape from Xville, it is only when a new social worker, Rachel, arrives at the prison that her hopes start to take on a concrete form. Until now she has worn a “death mask” to disguise herself from the world, but when stylish, attractive Rachel show her some attention, she breaks out of her trance-like state and starts to look forward to a more positive future. Though she repeatedly tells us that she is not a lesbian, she falls totally under the sway of the enigmatic Rachel and together they embark on a dangerous and disturbing course of action.
Eileen’s is a provoking and discomforting story and in this version the reader, Alyssa Bresnahan, captures the brittleness and pathos of the central character. You may not like the woman, and will certainly be unsettled by her story, but EILEEN is not a novel you will easily forget.
The audiobook is available from audible.co.uk and lasts 8h46mins