3 out of 5 stars for Eileen, an intriguing yet very weird book
I will say this about houses. Those perfect neat colonials I’d passed earlier that evening on my way through X-ville are the death masks of normal people. Nobody is really so orderly, so perfect. To have a house like that says more about what’s wrong with you than any decrepit dump. Those people with perfect houses are simply obsessed with death.
The novel, which was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, has received a lot of attention in the last year. I was intrigued by the premise of this book. It follows the story of Eileen Dunlop, a twenty-four-year-old woman who lives alone with her alcoholic father and works at a boys’ prison. An older Eileen is the narrator of the story and looks back at events that passed in the week around Christmas in the 1960s. While Eileen’s external life is drab and uneventful, her inner life is complex as she is plagued by thoughts of sexual desire, remorse, depression, and self-loathing. Her outward life changes dramatically when she meets Rebecca. Eileen narrates the events that unfold after meeting Rebecca, which, within the course of one week, put her on a drastically different life path.
Eileen is full of self-loathing, but she is also a loathsome character. It is never really clear how much we, as readers, should trust the story that Eileen is telling us. Nevertheless, she paints herself as a self-absorbed twenty-four-year-old, while also assuring the reader that in her later life she became well-adjusted. I opened my review with a quote that I think exemplifies one of the main themes of the book. It explores the question of what is under the surface, what is repressed or hidden. It is a book that is at times repugnant. Eileen is obsessed with the biological functions of her body, her digestive system, her waste—in short, all that occurs under the surface of her body. In a similar way, she gives the reader a surface story, one the reader must speculate about and read into.
On the whole, this was an interesting read. It is not for the squeamish. If you can’t deal with dark themes or are easily taken aback by grotesque imagery or situations, I would pass over this one. If you like books that push the boundaries of what is “acceptable” to explore deeper themes and questions, give this one a go! I found myself thinking about it a lot in the days after I read it. It’s one that will stick with you for a while after you read it.
My copy of this book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, NetGalley and Vintage for helping me get a copy of this book.