A book like no other.
Unconventional. Raw. Honest. Discomforting. Truly beautiful.
I can say with confidence that Eileen is unlike anything I have ever read. It debunks and subverts stereotypes at every turn of the page while presenting you with what should be an entirely unlikable cast of characters who you can't help but be completely fascinated with. The story thrives in an uncomfortable environment continually pushing the boundaries, yet there is a normalcy that seems almost mundane. It's full of contradictions, but that's what makes it so fantastically, horribly, heart-wrenchingly honest.
In the snowy days leading up to Christmas, Eileen Dunlop is trapped in her small New England town (called X-ville), living with an alcoholic father and working in a boy's juvenile prison facility. All she wants in the world is to get away, to be someone else; and, all she needs to do so is an external push. Because while not bereft of ambition, Eileen lacks the self-motivation to take her destiny into her own hands. Along comes fate, setting into motion a series of events pushing our protagonist past the point of no return, to freedom.
Told from the point of view of an older, wiser, more experienced and renamed Eileen, this could be considered a coming of age tale. A turning point in a young woman's life. Except unlike the common caterpillar to butterfly version of events, this feels more like a lone, struggling, recently-hatched sea turtle finding it's way to the sea across a vast expanse of sand with no sense of direction and any number of obstacles and predators in it's way. Some people are just born with more hurdles in their path, and Eileen is certainly one of them. A product of a distant mother who passes away at an early age and a father who wants little to do with her, Eileen has been raised to believe she is about as worthwhile as the dead mouse she has in the glove box of her car.
Eileen is filled with self-loathing, while being completely obsessed with her appearance and the image she is putting out into the world. She scrutinizes every person she meets and every element of her own existence to see how they might be put together and where she might fit into the picture. She creates fantastical versions of what could happen someday with Randy, her workplace crush. She's simultaneously intrigued and humiliated by her own sexuality. She seems to unapologetically recognize her own failings and never once shows regret for her part in the events that unfold. Our older narrator has found peace in understanding that everything that took place leading up to that fateful Christmas day was necessary to propel her into the life she found after her flight from X-ville. And while this does not make her a pilar of virtue, it gives the reader a meticulously told pragmatic series of events which leave little room for excuse or misunderstanding. You may at times be aghast at the events unfolding, but you never doubt their truth.
I can't honestly say Eileen is likable. I am fairly certain you will be fascinated by her. What's more, I think she is a character emblematic of the kind of people who are too often neglected or forgotten by society at large. Admittedly, if I met Eileen on the street, I would likely pass her by without another thought. If I met her in a bar, I imagine I would try and escape that conversation as quickly as possible. This all says far more about me than her, and I think that is one of the strongest elements to this book. Where are the Eileens of the world? How did we create them? How did we dismiss them? These women, these people, deserve a voice too and this powerful book is a lens into that world. Add to this the slowly unfolding mystery that leads to her escape, a masterfully manipulative secondary character who I've not even touched on and some of the most poetically graphic writing I've read in quite some time and you get a book you won't want to put down.
by Ottessa Moshfegh
Fiction, Mystery, Thriller