“Violence made much more sense to me than any strained conversation. If there had been more fighting in my family growing up in X-Ville, things might have turned out differently. I might have stayed.”
“Eileen”, American author Moshfegh’s second novel is a first person narrative, largely an escape plan by the title character, living in a place she calls X-Ville with her alcoholic ex-cop father. Eileen is somewhat strange, with bizarre habits, rituals and hang-ups. She is an isolated figure, working in a boys’ prison as an administrator devising pointless questionnaires for the visiting mothers just to pass the time. As the story moves towards Christmas 1964 Eileen begins to plan her getaway from this existence (a plan we know succeeds as the narrator is Eileen looking back to this time). Her fantasies of killing her father and of being seduced by one of the prison guards all take more of a back seat when Rebecca, appointed to devise a curriculum at the prison arrives.
It is undoubtedly well-written and Moshfegh keeps us guessing throughout. There were undertones of misery-lit at times (not my favourite genre) but Rebecca’s appearance adds a new dynamic to the proceedings and it is one sentence from her which changes the whole proceedings for the final section of the book, taking it into a direction I did not anticipate.
The character of Eileen is fascinating and Moshfegh’s creation is the reason this has made the longlist. Naive, unpredictable and able to elicit responses from sympathy to revulsion from the reader but throughout you will her to get her life back on track and escape both the prison she works in and the one she has created for herself. I would be very happy to see this on the shortlist.
Update – Sept 13th – Congratulations to Ottessa Moshfegh for making the shortlist.
Eileen was published by Vintage in March 2016. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for a review copy.