Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh x2

I had to reread this for some reason –  (so call my a martyr).   I actually enjoyed it quite a lot more the second time having got over my disgust and annoyance with Eileen-the-younger.   It’s really not necessary for me to “like” or even to “relate” to a character in a book and a second reading often opens up interesting avenues of thought.

eileen

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Eileen 
by Ottessa Moshfegh
2016 / 272 pages
read by Aylssa Bresnahan – 8h 46m
rating – 9  /A-   –   literary suspense 
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HUGE SPOILERS!!!!

First,   there was the actual narrator of the book and  I really liked Eileen-the-elder. It felt as though she looked back on her younger self with both pity and loathing – maybe a wee bit of compassion.  That’s how I understood her on the second reading.    The filth of the younger Eileen (as described by the elder) is so intense that it made for some tough reading on the first round and I think the reader is supposed to be disgusted by her.   But perhaps Eileen-the-elder is exaggerating in order to work the contrast between then and now? –

And now I’m rethinking the reliability of Eileen-the-elder.   In the first reading she was  ignorable  – in the second she really stood out for me.  But my first ideas on the second read was that she was being completely honest – who wouldn’t be after 50 years?

Of course it’s more fun to read a book in which I “like” the protagonist than one in which I don’t,  but in the long run it doesn’t matter.   I’m not sure what it means to “like” the protagonist –  I don’t think I actually “like” that many –  most of them are simply “okay.”   (Ali Smith’s book “Autumn” has a major character/protagonist named Elisabeth Demand whom I “liked.”   I read that back in April.)
I think Eileen of 1964 loathes herself and emphasizes all her dislikable aspects – to herself and others – she kind of nurtures her yukkieness in order to turn people off thus preventing any rejection.  (gads)    She’s probably also reacting to her father,  her mother and her sister in that she was always the “bad” one,  so she has to be worse than they were/are.
Eileen is intelligent,  hard working and loyal and she would probably make a great friend if she cleaned up a bit and took the risk.  Rebecca came on really strong for her own reasons,  and just broke through that self-imposed wall of Eileen’s.
On the first reading I loathed Eileen – on the second reading I had quite a lot of compassion for her.  (I still wouldn’t want to be her friend though – in her young days.)    I don’t think I was either shocked or awed except maybe shocked a little bit that someone would write this.
“Normal” is a wide range and covers a lot of territory.  I think in most respects Eileen is within the “normal”  range but certainly to the left of center – out there in the 15% parts of a bell curve maybe – but not the 2% parts.    Most people would see her as being “odd” or “weird” if they paid attention but she goes to work every day and  mostly is just dirty and doesn’t take care of herself a lick and has rather loathsome thoughts.

 

Eileen is seeing her reflection in a store window:
“I looked ridiculous in my huge gray coat, alone and stunned in the headlights of a passing car like a dumb and frightened deer.”  (p. 57).

Eileen of 2014 is remembering how she got ready to go visit Rebecca at her home,  happy,  excited:    –
“I remember going and getting the map of X-ville from the car and galloping like a clumsy deer back inside through the glistening mounds of snow. I was full of energy.”   (pp. 192-193)

** The deer is memorable –  this whole episode with the deer has a very deep meaning to her in 2014**
** She goes on to say she kept the map for years – a map of her childhood – of her old life. **

Eileen in 2014 reminiscing:   “I wish I could feel again the brief peace I found on that northbound highway. My mind was empty, eyes wide with wonder at the passing forests and snow-filled pastures. The sunlight blared through the trees, and at a particular swerve in the road, it blinded me. When I could see again, there was a deer standing a few yards ahead, blocking my way. I slowed, watching the animal frozen there, staring back at me head-on, as though I’d kept it waiting. I pulled over and rolled the car window back up.”   (p. 259)

And …
“I said good-bye to the Dodge as I walked toward the deer, frozen still, breath steaming from its nostrils and hanging in the air between us like so many ghosts. I raised my hand as though to greet it. It just stood there, big black eyes fixed on mine, startled but kind, face tinged with frost, antlers floating above its head like a crown. I remember that, how I crumbled before that animal, its body quaking and heavy and huge. Tears finally filled my eyes. I opened my mouth to speak to it, but it trotted off down the embankment and into the woods. That was it. I cried. I smeared my tears around to rub the blood off my face and kept walking, my footsteps crisp and certain in the frozen snow.”  (p. 260)

I am more and more impressed with this book the longer and harder I pay attention.   I am so glad I got the ebook to go with my listening because the first time round I barely knew what I was paying attention to what with all the gross physical stuff and the suspense.

First,    I really liked Eileen-the-elder and it felt as though she looked back on her younger self with both pity and loathing – maybe a wee bit of compassion.  That’s how I understood her on the second reading.    The filth of the younger Eileen (as described by the elder) was so intense that it was pretty hard to read and I think the reader is supposed to be disgusted by her.   Perhaps part of that is a bit of exaggeration by the older Eileen in order to work the contrast between then and now? –

** And now I’m rethinking the reliability of Eileen-the-elder. **

Of course it’s more fun to read a book in which I “like” the protagonist than one in which I don’t,  but in the long run it doesn’t matter.   I’m not sure what it means to “like” the protagonist –  I don’t think I actually “like” that many –  most of them are simply “okay.”   (Ali Smith’s book “Autumn” has a major character/protagonist named Elisabeth Demand whom I “liked.”   I read that back in April.)
I think Eileen of 1964 loathes herself and emphasizes all her dislikable aspects – to herself and others – she kind of nurtures her yukkieness in order to turn people off thus preventing any rejection.  (gads)    She’s probably also reacting to her father,  her mother and her sister in that she was always the “bad” one,  so she has to be worse than they were/are.
Eileen is intelligent,  hard working and loyal and she would probably make a great friend if she cleaned herself up and took the risk.  Rebecca came on really strong for her own reasons,  and just broke through that self-imposed wall of Eileen’s.
On the first reading I loathed Eileen – on the second reading I had quite a lot of compassion for her.  (I still wouldn’t want to be her friend though – in her young days.)    I don’t think I was either shocked or awed except maybe shocked a little bit that someone would write this.
I think the concept of “normal” is quite a wide range and covers a lot of territory.  I think in most respects Eileen is within the “normal”  range but certainly to the left of center – out there in the 15% parts of a bell curve maybe – but not the 2% parts.    Most people would see her as being “odd” or “weird” if they paid attention but she goes to work every day and  mostly is just dirty and doesn’t take care of herself a lick and has rather loathsome thoughts.
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