Under Her Buttons

Joanna Biggs

  • Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
    Cape, 260 pp, £16.99, March 2016, ISBN 978 0 224 10255 1

Eileen is 24, all ribs, shoulders and hips with ‘lemon-sized’ breasts and nipples ‘like thorns’. She still has acne scars across her cheeks. She wears thick tights and skirts that pass her knees and buttons everything else up to the neck. Eileen reads National Geographic and lives with her father, an ex-cop and a drunk who is at least ‘easy to distract and soothe’: she just hands him a bottle of gin and leaves the room. ‘I looked so boring, lifeless, immune and unaffected,’ Eileen, now in her seventies, says of herself as she was in 1964, ‘but in truth I was always furious, seething, my thoughts racing, my mind like a killer’s.’ But who did she want to kill? She used to look up at the icicles hanging by the front door of her New England home and see her own death: ‘I imagined one plummeting through the hollow of my collarbone and stabbing me straight through the heart. Or, had I tilted my head back, perhaps it would have soared down my throat, scraping the vacuous centre of my body – I liked to picture these things – and followed through to my guts, finally parting my nether regions like a glass dagger.’

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