"Some families are so sick, so twisted, the only way out is for someone to die"
Eileen is a dark and dreary character study of a young woman told in flash back, some fifty years later, by an older Eileen. Otessa Moshfegh's novel is no barrel of laughs but don't let that put you off. This Man Booker 2016 nominated title is so well written that, in spite of the the depressing subject matter you may just be moved by the beautiful prose.
The world that Eileen inhabits, in the flash backs to the 1960s, is a quiet town outside Boston in which she works as a secretary at a young offenders institute. Eileen lives with her alcoholic father in a decrepit house; "The gin reeking through his skin and on his breath obliterated all other smells around him". She has no friends, no ambition and no life to speak of. Eileen barely exists for the first two thirds of the novel as Moshfegh slowly builds the character so vividly and richly; "What I mean to say is that I was not fundamentally unattractive. I was just invisible".
Eileen doesn't so much dream, "A grown woman is like a Coyote - she can get by on very little" but her World is shaken with the arrival of a new colleague at work, Rebecca. There is a deep and colourful chasm between the two women, Rebecca is everything that Eileen isn't, yet they form a friendship of sorts which opens Eileen's senses to a different life.
With new self awareness, in the final parts of the novel, Eileen joins forces with Rebecca in a dramatic final twist. Some readers will find the build up to the these final scenes too unbearable but for me I was happily lost in the bleak back story.
Eileen is a slow moving, character driven slice of literary fiction that is probably mis-sold as a thriller. The flash back's from a mature Eileen complete the narrative with as little hope as it began; "Idealism without consequence is the pathetic dream of every spoiled brat"
I read this novel on Kindle, mostly on the train in and out of Marylebone
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, published by Vintage, 274 pages