Eileen – Man Booker Finalist

9781594206627_p0_v1_s192x300   Be prepared to feel down and grudgy as you start to read  Ottessa Moshfegh’s Man Booker Prize finalist Eileen.  Although the sentences flow, the words create an uneasy sensation – at times, I wanted to put the book down to take a shower or vacuum the rug.  At the end of the first chapter, Eileen warns the reader:  “In a week, I would run away from home and never go back.  This is the story of how I disappeared.”  This hopeful promise motivated my reading through the misery

As she begins to tell her story, Eileen looks back before her life-changing incident fifty years earlier the week before Christmas 1964.  Each long chapter is titled with the day, starting with Friday and climaxing on Christmas Eve.

Having left college to return home to nurse her ailing mother, Eileen finds herself now stuck with her alcoholic father, a retired policeman.  Her caring for him is minimal, no cooking or cleaning involved; she buys his liquor and ties his shoes.  They live in squalor and a haze of perpetual drunkenness.  In her job as a secretary at a correctional facility for boys, she fantasizes about one of the guards and imagines her father dying, leaving her free to move on.

By Monday, her examination of self is interrupted by a newcomer to the prison staff, Rebecca Saint John, a recent Harvard graduate. Beautiful and cheery, she is the antithesis of Eileen, yet they make a connection.  Suddenly, the mood shifts. Eileen now has a friend – and her father’s gun.

“And I felt in a way that just by knowing her, I was graduating out of my misery. I was making some progress.”

Throughout the laborious build-up,  as she reveals her inner demons and dreams of escape, Moshfegh has Eileen intermittently interrupting her own story, commenting as her older self. The narrative moves slowly until the climax, then takes on the frantic suspenseful pace of a murder mystery.  On Christmas Eve, the story takes an eerie turn.   Something bad and unexpected is about to happen, and it does.

Eileen confirms she has survived, now living a quiet life in New York City, but to tell how would spoil the story.

I understood author Jean Zimmerman’s assessment of the novel for NPR as “funny awful.”  I might add other adjectives: weird, bizarre, dark  – with strange shades of Capote and Hitchcock – but I couldn’t put it down until I finished it.

 

 

The Man Booker Baker’s Dozen

Unknown The anticipated Man Booker Longlist announced today has a few familiar titles but some books are not yet published in the United States.  Thirteen books made the prestigious list.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, a satirical assessment of racism in the United States, tops the list.  The winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Beatty’s novel uses a Jonathan Swift premise in his character’s modest proposal to bring back segregation and slavery.

Four other American novels on the list include Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton.  The author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, Strout returns with a short but powerful novel as she tells the story of suffering and relationships.

Ottessa Moshfegh’s suspenseful tale, Eileen, also examines a lonely woman – this one works in a boys’ prison.  Virginia Reeves uses the setting of prison – this one in Alabama in Work Like Any Other, and David Means’ Hystopia imagines a third term for former President John F. Kennedy.

From the United Kingdom, another mother-daughter relationship is explored in Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk,  Graeme Macrae Burnet’s psychological thriller His Bloody Project looks for motivation behind a murder, Ian McGuire’s The North Water has a suspenseful journey of a  ruined doctor volunteering on a whaling ship, and Wyl Menmuir’s The Many has a strange mystery in a coastal village.

The Schooldays of Jesus from Australian Nobel prize winning author J.M. Coetzee will be published in the United States in February, 2017.  David Salzay’s All That Man, set in Prague,  will be published in October, 2016.

Canadian Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing centers on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 China. From the United Kingdom, A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet offers “a day in the life of London lonely hearts.”  Both are not yet released in the United States.

Thirteen books to digest before the committee proclaims the short list in September, and the winner in October.