My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Oh, Eileen, I really didn’t like you.
I may have lost the habit of reading literary books. This book was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, more details here. I decided to read it so I kept on plugging away but I found it hard work and not particularly rewarding. For me, that is.
It is a book told by an old woman about the young woman she used to be, her internal psychology and emotion. It is less about extraordinary events and more about the day-to-day misery of her life. She thinks it is miserable and I certainly found it miserable too.
It is told as a stream of conscience. Memories of her childhood and how her life has unfolded so far are mixed in with details of how she reacts to what is happening to her today. Little happens and what does is really quite weird. She’s “wired weird”, she comments at one point. This is a nice piece of language and there may be more that passed me by.
Throughout the book there are hints of things that have happened or are going to happen: a violent end for her mother, “what she did” to her father and what happened “when Rebecca arrived”. Rebecca’s arrival certainly precipitates a change in Eileen. The events of Christmas Eve are where there is the simplest narrative but I can’t say more because of spoilers.
There is some dialogue, mostly in the normal interchanges with her co-workers – and with Rebecca, when she arrives. With her father, he says something and then she thinks about it for a huge paragraph then she might say something. Less dialogue, more random exchange of words.
The inaction takes place in the last week before she leaves her childhood home. After an introduction to 1964, each long chapter covers a single day until “The End”. This structure corrals the free-flowing wander through her life, not in any consecutive order but just as the memories occur to her. I am still not entirely sure how the memories interrelated but then I probably didn’t care enough about Eileen to piece it together.
In summary, I really didn’t like it but you might. Some of the professional critics thought it was wow! I hope you enjoy it if you try it.