A disturbing psychological thriller

Here is my third review from the Man Booker Prize 2016 shortlist. The Sellout, by Paul Beatty, was announced as the winner last Tuesday, which means I did not predict correctly (in my blog on Monday I hoped it would be Deborah Levy, but thought it would probably be won by Madeleine Thien). My only excuse is that I had not finished reading all six books on the shortlist by the time of the announcement!

As promised, here is my review of Eileen, by American writer Ottessa Moshfegh, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Have a read and see what you think, and if you have read it I’d love to know what you thought.

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This is a novel about disorder; set in a seemingly sedate generic town in New England in the 1960s (for the purposes of the novel it’s called X-Ville), we are presented at the outset with a horrifying picture of chaos, in Eileen’s family home, in her messed-up mind, in her lifestyle and in her work. Eileen is a young woman and an administrator in a penal institution for young boys. Eileen, like many of the young males incarcerated at the prison, one imagines, is damaged, but, unlike those boys, the damage has not yet manifested itself in actions that have got her into trouble. Not yet. And that is the suspense of the novel – will the neglect to which she has been subjected burst out at some point?

Eileen has led a troubled life: neglected as a child by an alcoholic mother (now dead after what seems to have been a protracted illness), possibly abused by her father (we are not certain), with whom she now lives alone and who is also an alcoholic. Her father is mentally ill but his public misdemeanours are tolerated by the local police because he himself in an ex-cop. Instead, Eileen is more or less blamed for failing to keep him under control. The house they live in is disgusting – foetid, cluttered and in a state of disrepair. The effect is so visceral that just reading about it made me want to wash my hands! Continue reading “A disturbing psychological thriller”