Houman Barekat

Remembering Rebecca

Eileen

By Ottessa Moshfegh

Vintage 272pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Six pages into Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh’s narrator-protagonist declares, ‘this isn’t a story of how awful my father was.’ This is not strictly true. Sixty-seven pages later his awfulness is still being dissected: ‘He had no loyalty to me. He was never proud of me. He never praised me. He simply didn’t like me.’ Eileen tells the story of an infatuation, and these are invariably less about the infatuee than about whatever private misery the obsessor is fleeing. The titular heroine is physically unprepossessing, dowdy, shy and naive. She lives in a humdrum town called Xville with her father, an alcoholic retired policeman who subjects her to relentless psychological abuse, and works at a young offenders’ institute. When she is befriended by a new colleague called Rebecca Saint John, who is beautiful, witty and urbane, her world lights up: meeting Rebecca ‘was like learning to dance, discovering jazz’. Rebecca, it transpires, has certain rather utopian notions about criminal justice, to which end she enlists Eileen, hopelessly in her thrall, in a bizarre vigilante escapade.

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