Eileen looks back at the life she once had, the life in X-Ville, where she grew up with her father, a former policeman and alcohol addict, her older sister who was everything she was not and her mother who died much too early. Due to the mother’s illness, Eileen had to give up college and return home to care for her, she found a job in a juvenile detention centre which she hated. There is no such thing as a private life for Eileen, stalking one of the prison guards, some shoplifting from time to time, drinking a bit too much with her father. This is definitely not the life Eileen had imagined, but how can she flee from it? She spends her days daydreaming of different possibilities of escape. When Rebecca Saint John arrives at the prison, Eileen is intrigued by the women’s demeanour. She immediately admires her and even kind of falls in love with her – not foreboding what is behind the nice looks and outer appearance of this woman.
Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel combines psychological aspects with a crime story in a very unexpected way. For the largest part, we follow Eileen and her rather pitiful life. How the parents treat her, especially her father who seems to take her rather as a servant and not as his daughter, her sister with whom she does not relate at all. And her concept of herself: she perceives herself as invisible, ugly even, nobody could ever be interested in her, nobody seems to take notice of her presence. Her thoughts about escape, escape from the village, escape from life, her fantasies about killing her father who is responsible for her deplorable situation arise from her borderline state of mind. Thus, it is not surprising how she reacts when she finds herself suddenly in a critical and threatening situation with a gun in her hand.
From a psychological point of view, the nomination for the 2016 Man Booker Prize shortlist can easily be understood. The novel offers deep insight in the character’s mind and opens a completely new world to the reader. The atmosphere created, the lonely far away village, deep in snow, also wonderfully blends with the inner state of the protagonist. Nevertheless, I would have preferred some more action a bit earlier. The sudden crime situation came a bit too late to my taste.