ManBooker Longlist 2016
Eileen is a rather detached novel about the cruel youth of an elderly woman. As a woman in her sixties she has come to terms with who she is; she has an astute sense of her minor points and does not try to hide or apologize for them. Her flaws have made her who she is, she is fairly satisfied with how life has eventually turned out. She realizes she has always been something of an outsider, a result of upbringing and character. Her parents would never have won a parenting prize. They are proud of their pretty, cheerful oldest daughter, they have no clue what to do with their younger more introvert child. Their response: ridicule and punish her. Eileen returning home to take care of her father after her mother’s death is considered her duty. Lack of appreciation from her father and a tendency to self-destroy in Eileen make for a disastrous combination. She lives entirely in her own world, at home and at work, not taking care of herself in whatever way. Neither does she have any compassion for the boys being re-educated in the prison Eileen works in: she is too preoccupied with her own troubles.
The arrival of a new colleague changes things. This woman, Rebecca, does not agree with the way the boys are being treated. She blows Eileen away by just paying attention to her and being friendly. One wonders whether she realizes in what way she affects Eileen. Eileen looks upon Rebecca as her saviour, the one who will take her away from her father, her work and her hometown. It takes a disastrous event to make her regard Rebecca as a plain person. The event however does have its effect: Eileen leaves and never returns.
Eileen is a retrospect, coloured by its narrator, a narrator sufficiently honest to admit to her flaws. Eileen furthermore paints a nasty picture of the re-educational institutes in which troublesome boys were put away, closely resembling grown-up prisons. Moshfegh writes beautifully, her imagery is poetic and strong. I enjoyed reading her sentences. At the end the novel as the main character remains slightly too much at a distance.