Eileen is one of those novels that grips you to the final page but doesn’t quite give you the pay off you’re expecting. Not that you really mind when the character is as rounded as Eileen Dunlop. The writing here is so descriptive that Eileen practically pops off the page and this is the reason I really enjoyed it.
The story goes a little something like this: Eileen is a middle-aged woman when we meet her but as the narrative unfolds, she regales us with a tale from her early twenties. A tale it seems that has paved the way for the rest of her life, up to present day.
The daughter of an ex-cop, Eileen dreams of the day she can leave her dreary life and unfulfilling job behind. When glamorous Rebecca Saint John arrives at the juvenile prison Eileen works at, our protagonist’s world is set ablaze with bizarre and potentially devastating consequences.
Again, what I enjoyed most about this book was the way Ottessa Moshfegh paints a picture. Eileen is not an attractive character per se but she is so vividly molded by the author that she becomes something else altogether. As she just about tolerates her home life and the increasingly unstable behaviour of her largely unloving father, Eileen builds an inner fantasy life around the prison.
Lusting after one of the guards, our girl engineers scenarios in which he falls in love with her and her (love) life finally begins (she also dedicates a great deal of her waking day waiting outside his apartment in her car). She also admits that the youthful inmates she’s around every day have an effect on her too and I like the scenes in the prison the best. I love a prison setting and the psychology of why people do what they do and Eileen gives us snippets of their lives to savour.
When Rebecca appears we explore this element in more depth. I couldn’t really fathom where the ending would take us, apart from knowing that Eileen finally leaves her depressing home town for a bigger life – and this is part of the reason I enjoyed my experience so much.
The ending is probably the only part that made me scratch my head a little bit. It’s not that it’s bad and it’s not that it doesn’t fit, it’s just turned out differently to what I expected and I think that’s a good thing. I won’t spoil it but if you do read, I’d like to know your thoughts.
I definitely miss Eileen Dunlop. She’s not your typical heroine but I’d love more of her. I’d like to know more about how her life developed after the events of this book – and way beyond. As a middle-aged woman, she alludes to some of the relationships she’s had throughout her life and I’d like to hear her talk about them.
Ottessa is a great novelist and I will be exploring more. STAT.
Publisher: Vintage; 01 edition (18 Aug. 2016)
Gifted paperback for Christmas
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UPDATE: Realised after posting (no I didn’t, Meghan told me) that I’d been calling it ELAINE throughout. Jesus.