**spoiler alert** It's kind of hard to believe how MUCH is in this tiny, seemingly simple, story. The language is so basic, and there are two main thr**spoiler alert** It's kind of hard to believe how MUCH is in this tiny, seemingly simple, story. The language is so basic, and there are two main thrusts in terms of narrative: 1) the story of Addie and Louis - a coming together at the end of their lives for companionship and - eventually - sex. Very sweet and loving. 2) the intrusion into that coming together of Addie and Louis by Addie's grandson Jamie, and his father Gene, Addie's good-for-nothing son.
The novel pulled at my heartstrings in many ways (coz kids and old people, right? vulnerable, dependent, fragile), but where I think its emotional power resides is in the collision of this gentle, sweet love story (whose sweetness was pretty much all about Addie's courage and Louis's kindness and the fact that they were aged 70, when the pursuit and potential for love and companionship is often abandoned but so sorely needed) with the violence and disruption (view spoiler)[(the implicit and explicit child neglect/abuse and, eventually, elder abuse) (hide spoiler)] of the Jamie/Gene story line.
The novel is really subtle in how it weaves these two narratives together - with Addie's love, courage and autonomy ultimately giving way to her guilt, fear and dependence. Everyone ends up (or remains) battered and damaged. And so what starts out as a simple little love story with a bit of a unique twist turns very dark, profoundly sad, deeply moving.
Gorgeous prose poem about living (and dying) under an oppressive dictatorship, but ultimately - despite the beauty and interesting resonances of the iGorgeous prose poem about living (and dying) under an oppressive dictatorship, but ultimately - despite the beauty and interesting resonances of the imagery, which you almost had to feel rather than read - it felt to me distancing and slightly impenetrable. For something similar, my tastes run more to The Vagrants - much more difficult and horrific, but somehow more suited to the subject matter....more
this is my and jo's first attempt at a joint review. this task, already a difficult one, is made all the more difficult by the fact that we disagreethis is my and jo's first attempt at a joint review. this task, already a difficult one, is made all the more difficult by the fact that we disagree about the book! jo liked it less than i!
jakaem: i particularly enjoyed the unique portraits of all the characters, even though i didn't like any of the characters themselves. creating well-articulated characters who didn't have a lot of redeeming qualities, in fact weren't terribly interesting, felt quite a feat. one might claim that it is easier to portray villains than self-absorbed, relatively nondescript, run-of-the-mill banal characters. and yet, they emerge vividly and with distinct personalities and quirks.
jo: i, too, found the characters quite distasteful, at least til the very end, where the author decides to give us something to like about at least some of them. i don't know why hadley chose to populate this novel with unpleasant characters -- even the kids are not pleasant! i did not like the insistence on the physicality of these women (they are mostly women), especially the fact that they are all more or less dumpy and frumpy, excepting the exotic, latin-american new wife of the brother. i also didn't like the emphasis on bad aging. as a woman, i read this book and felt generally quite depressed about the allegedly terrible fate of aging women. i don't read books to get depressed (and yes, i do get that hadley is being more positive about aging than the surface of the novel suggests, but this comes up a bit too little too late).
jakaem: what hadley is doing is drawing a parallel between this family and their changing relationships with each other as they age. hadley anchors these changing relationships in the increasing decrepitude of the childhood home; it's the end of an era for them all. there is something poignant about the siblings' tragic past in connection with the history of the house, which they've taken a final three-week vacation to determine whether they can keep going, or must give up. i also found the pastoral prose enjoyable and thought it worked well as a setting for the organic nature of these complex, growing, changing sibling relationships.
jo: too. many. words. too many nouns, adjectives, plant names, trees, flowers, shapes of the sky, rivers, configurations of the light and the air, permutations of the weather. many, many words about bodies, skin, body parts, over and over and over. and clothing. so much clothingness. i couldn't keep my attention on the page cuz the language kept getting in the way. but look: i admire the book. the writing is exquisite, just not my cup of tea (lots of tea is drunk in the course of this book).
jakaem: the thing that kept me going, aside from the fact that i actually liked the language, is a sense of foreboding. i kept expecting something terrible to happen. (view spoiler)[since nothing really happens, this seemed to me an interesting way to add drama where there is in fact no drama. (hide spoiler)] jo: i have seen that other people rank hadley's former books more highly than this one so i'm willing to try more of her stuff. but here something i'm really not interested in: the rural, exuberantly grown, verdant england all english people love -- this england of long, rain-soaked walks, wellington boots, and hot cups of tea by the poorly-working fireplace at the return.
jakaem: hahaha. yeah, it really was weakly steeped in lots of places. i liked Harriet and her whole character arc, though. she kept me going. also, this book gets the award for most creative - and abundant - descriptions of eyelids.
jo: what kept me going was wanting to know where it all went. and the ending definitely pays off!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Eileen is a triumph of narrative voice, and that is the single reason why I am giving this novel four stars. From the distance of many years hence, EiEileen is a triumph of narrative voice, and that is the single reason why I am giving this novel four stars. From the distance of many years hence, Eileen narrates a week-long series of events that occurred to her leading to her departure from her hometown at the age of 24, where she was living a life of squalor, despair and servitude to her alcoholic father.
An old woman now whose circumstances are unclear, Eileen is -- or at least was -- one hot mess. But a compelling one. I found her absolutely fascinating: a mass of insecurities, fantasies, drunkenness, physical decreptitude (with a not insignificant degree of body dysmorphia), emotional volatility and inconsistencies hidden behind what she tells us is a "death mask". Ridden by fears and anxieties, she is the product of truly awful life circumstances. She never bathes. She wears her dead mother's clothes. She drinks to excess with her father in a squalid house; stalks a co-worker -- her only sexual outlet (she's never had a date, or rather, had one for her prom which went terribly badly). She is easy prey to a glamourous teacher who arrives in town -- but who exactly is prey and who predator? (To be honest, neither one of them possesses the competency or confidence to be true sociopaths, contributing to the culminating event degenerating into farce).
Eileen is a misfit and an outcast and a self-admitted oddball.
There's a great amount of humour here - unintentional, for the most part, although it's born of some kind of survival instinct and a self-deprecatory approach to this hostile world, in which Eileen rages mutely and wants nothing more to leave via an act of violence to herself or her father (it seems to be the only way out for her). And though the potential for great violence hovers in the air always in this novel, propelling it forward, there is simultaneously a sense - per above - that Eileen is just too damn damaged to pull anything off. So, quickly, the novel becomes less about the dramatic tension of whatever is going to happen to drive Eileen out of town, and more about its inevitability based on Eileen herself, her life circumstances, her pathos.
It's absurd, and dark, and we are really not laughing at her, but with her. And we (at least I) liked her. Mostly. The framing device of Eileen as an old woman, telling the story of who she was, creates an honesty and vulnerability that is endearing. Not entirely (or at all) believable, but the reader is in on the joke - and we (at least I) found a place of tremendous compassion for her, side-by-side with repulsion and horror.
To be sure, there are moments where Eileen reveals the full scope of the emotional damage that has been done to her, and we sense a chilling coldness, a lack of empathy that might be described as sociopathic, if one were to choose to put a label on it.
But there are also moments -- and more of them -- that fall in between, for example a scene she narrates where a young neighbourhood boy had shovelled her driveway and she invites him in to pay him. She ends up kissing him (and scaring him away for good). From her perspective, the moment unfolds with a certain innocence, and as a reader it came across as less predatory than simply socially awkward (to an extreme degree) - similar to many, many other scenes in which older-Eileen reflects on younger-Eileen's behaviour, and gives the reader a glimpse into what this behaviour looked like, albeit a glimpse tinged by her own unreliability and considerable ambiguity.
This is a just one of many scenes that are difficult to interpret in terms of how, exactly, disordered Eileen really is. Mostly, I landed somewhere in the middle where I had compassion for this woman whose personality seems to have developed in a complete vacuum and who is, essentially, just plain lonely and really badly broken.
There is, as mentioned, the incessant march toward Christmas Eve day when Eileen is forced to leave her small Massachusetts (? - New England somewhere) town forever. We don't know why, we just know it's coming and so we are filtering all of her behaviour through that lens. When it does come, it's a) not what we expect; and b) told again in this minimizing, detached voice which nevertheless reveals that there is true chaos, disorder, violence occurring - inept as it is - and it's all the more chilling for that.
Oh and also: (view spoiler)[the climactic moment occurs within the context of Eileen's work at a 'children's prison' - a house of horrors that she is numb to, or dissociated from, or unable to empathize with. Leonard Polk, and his mother, and Rebecca (some kind of instrument of 'justice' - but also distorted and just plain odd); the prison itself, and the abuses that go on; all of these are mere backdrop for plot. (hide spoiler)]What actually happens to drive Eileen out of town is less important (at least, it was to me when reading) than Eileen's psychology, her responses to it, the catalyst it proved to be.
It's sort of awful. It's awful because the true horror in this novel passes as scenery, unremarkable in some way. Eileen herself walks - literally, walks - out of town and away from it all and - we seem to be told - goes on to live a relatively good life. She takes great pains to tell us that she is never caught; that no one even comes looking for her. The ineptitude of her act and departure - which simply must have left a trail of clues a mile wide - suggests that no one really cared to look. And that's the tragedy at the heart of this novel. That, and the horror she both experienced and contributed to, which remain behind like a bad smell.
It's an unsettling book. But an amazing authorial feat. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more