Monday, September 7, 2015

Review: Eileen

Summary: So here we are. My name was Eileen Dunlop. Now you know me. I was twenty-four years old then, and had a job that paid fifty-seven dollars a week as a kind of secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys. I think of it now as what it really was for all intents and purposes—a prison for boys. I will call it Moorehead. Delvin Moorehead was a terrible landlord I had years later, and so to use his name for such a place feels appropriate. In a week, I would run away from home and never go back.

This is the story of how I disappeared.

The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a buff prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When the bright, beautiful, and cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at Moorehead, Eileen is enchanted and proves unable to resist what appears at first to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings.

Played out against the snowy landscape of coastal New England in the days leading up to Christmas, young Eileen’s story is told from the gimlet-eyed perspective of the now much older narrator. Creepy, mesmerizing, and sublimely funny, in the tradition of Shirley Jackson and early Vladimir Nabokov, this powerful debut novel enthralls and shocks, and introduces one of the most original new voices in contemporary literature. -- Penguin Press

EILEEN by Ottessa Moshfegh was a book I kept hearing about at this year's BEA, but it wasn't until I attended the Book Group Speed Dating Session that I knew it was a must read for me. It sounded crazy strange, yet the writing was supposed to be amazing. I thought it would be perfect for Mystery Mondays.

EILEEN is indeed a strange book and Ms. Moshfegh's writing is nothing short of spectacular. I was extremely impressed with the author's writing style and the story was riveting, but I must say that I found this book to be disturbing. I mean that in the best way possible, of course! EILEEN was at times uncomfortable for me to read because the writing made Eileen's story so real, yet it was also a great mystery of sorts. Eileen tells the reader up front that this is the story of her disappearance, and the rest of the novel is about the events that led up to this event.

EILEEN is Eileen's own story about how she disappeared from her father's home and it's quite a ride. Eileen is a young adult and lives in a filthy home with her alcoholic father. She works at a local correctional institute for juvenile boys during the day and takes care of her father at night -- which basically means she supplies him with his alcohol. Eileen is miserable. She is insecure about how she looks and fantasizes about a certain prison guard who barely notices her; and as a result, her only hope is to leave all of this behind her and move to New York City.

When the beautiful Rebecca shows up at the prison as a new counselor at the prison, Eileen senses that her life is about to change. The two become fast friends despite their differences, and for the first time in her life, Eileen has a friend. Rebecca even invites Eileen to her home to spend some of the Christmas holidays with her; however, Eileen soon realizes that Rebecca's intentions aren't quite what they seem!

EILEEN is a fascinating book that definitely plays with the reader. Eileen is one of the most interesting (and twisted) characters that I've encountered in recent months, and she's sure to remain in my thoughts for sometimes. In many ways this book was a psychological thriller, but I also found it to be a bit of a mystery. At the beginning of the novel, Eileen sets up the reader by talking about how she "escaped" her home... and it sounds like it's quite a story, but it takes quite a few hours of reading to discover the specifics!

I enjoyed so many things about EILEEN and I was extremely impressed with Ms. Moshfegh's writing. Despite the twisted subject matter of the book, her prose was quite beautiful with vivid and brutally honest descriptions of Eileen's innermost thoughts. The relationships in Eileen's, albeit few, were incredibly complex and brought to life perfectly in this novel. The scenes from Eileen's past that were strategically dropped into the story were poignant and gave really insight into Eileen's motivations. And the pacing of the story was absolutely perfect as her story built to it's shocking conclusion.

I especially appreciated the scenes with Eileen and her father. Wow! I don't think I can convey the hopelessness of their lives. Eileen's father was an ex-cop who lost his wife and his job. He is an alcoholic in the worst sense of the word and is not only paranoid but truly can't function in the real world. Eileen is left to clean up after him which she does halfheartedly. I found it so interesting to think about Eileen's sense of responsibility along with her sense of guilt for her family situation.

As I read EILEEN, I couldn't stop analyzing Eileen. She's is very strange (even unlikable) and made me feel uncomfortable with many of her thoughts. The story takes place in the mid 1960s when women were on the cusp of major change, and Eileen's feelings definitely mirrored the times. (I found the juxtaposition of what was going on in Eileen's world and the real world to be so well done!) In addition, I appreciated how the events leading to Eileen's escape from her pitiful life also drastically changed Eileen. In many ways, this was a coming-of-age story for Eileen, and it was interesting to see how she became her own woman and even showed signs of being her own person. Eileen realized she did have some power and ability to make choices!

EILEEN is really a special book with beautiful writing and strong character development. Highly recommended to fans of dark psychological thrillers.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


Beth F said...

I *do* like a good psychological thriller. For some reason I missed this at BEA, so I'm glad you reviewed it.

bermudaonion said...

I don't remember hearing about this at BEA either but I think it might be too dark and disturbing for me.

Kim@Time2Read said...

I'm not sure about this one....sounds interesting, but I'm not sure I'd enjoy it. The description reminds be a bit of The Other Typist.