This is a tough one… the characterization of the protagonist in this novel is absolutely fascinating, yet I don’t know that the book as a whole worked for me. Such a specific tone was slowly developed throughout the first 2/3 of the story, easing along gentle to the inevitable conclusion, which then came about so quickly that I felt like there had to be more.
Eileen is named after it’s protagonist, Eileen, as she recounts the story of how she disappeared from her small hometown as a young woman over 50 years earlier. At the time, she had been living with her alcoholic father, working at a children’s prison, and planning on one day running away from her small and lonely life there. But upon the arrival of a new co-worker, things quickly change for Eileen as she is drawn to this individual who may be more than they appear.
Eileen’s existence is a perplexing one, but Otessa Moshfegh takes so much time and care to develop such a strong picture of who this woman is; more importantly, however, she tries to explain why she behaves like she does, getting into her mind, the obsessions of her young age, and her upbringing with her family which all play a part in showing us exactly why she make the decisions she does. To be clear, while Eileen may be a sympathetic character in certain moments, she is not a likeable one in my eyes, and as a narrator is unreliable: she is almost grotesque at times, and this pairs well with some of the brutal subject matter that comes up in the novel. It’s definitely not a light and fluffy story, in fact I felt almost put-off at times reading it, though it was certainly a quick story to get through. Well, let me rephrase that: the earlier portions take some time to develop a clear path as to where the story is going, but as soon as it does, it’s like falling off a cliff and suddenly you are there at the end. It felt a little disappointing after all that time working up to where it was going, as the whole time from Eileen’s narration we know that she disappeared from town and we know her coworker has something to do with it, so you are waiting for there to be a twist, but then it’s as if the twist happens and that’s it: we don’t see any of the fallout or much of what happens because of it. And I suppose that’s exactly what we are supposed to understand about Eileen’s life, and the conclusion certainly makes sense and works, but I still felt like it was a bit abrupt all of a sudden (though maybe that’s just me).
In any case, Eileen is a strange little book, that certainly engaged me as I just wanted to crack into this title character unlike any I’d ever really seen before: intriguing and unpleasant, but also understandable to me from a psychological standpoint.
CBR10 Bingo Square: Snubbed!