Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen Ottessa MoshfeghIn 1964, the eponymous narrator of ‘Eileen’ by Ottessa Moshfegh is twenty-four years old, living with her alcoholic father and working as a secretary at a correctional facility for teenage boys. During the week leading up to Christmas, Eileen Dunlop is planning to disappear from her coastal Massachusetts home town which she names only as X-ville and start a new life in New York City. However, when she meets Rebecca Saint John, a new colleague at the correctional facility, events begin to take an unexpected turn. 

Even for those who enjoy reading books featuring unlikeable or unreliable narrators, Eileen is a highly controversial character. Her morbid self-loathing, resentment, repression and obsessive behaviour is extreme, particularly her fixation on her physical appearance and the unpleasant habits she develops whilst living in squalid conditions with her father. However, Moshfegh’s unflinching psychological character study of Eileen is exceptionally perceptive and laced with black humour. While some readers may find Eileen’s thoughts and behaviour disturbing and grotesque, she also demonstrates that she can function just about well enough in her job and everyday life – at least on the surface – which makes her story all the more unsettling and her character so fascinating.

Eileen narrates the story as an elderly woman looking back on events fifty years after they have taken place and there is a fair amount of foreshadowing before the final twist at the end. Even though the speed at which the plot develops over the course of just one week is pretty implausible, the story of how Eileen leaves her previous life behind is still gripping right until the final pages as her “escape” certainly doesn’t happen in the way she had originally planned. I also thought Rebecca could have been more developed as a character but this is likely to be a reflection of Eileen’s heavily biased narrative. As she explains: “I could say more about her, but this is my story after all, not hers.”

Having received strong reviews in the United States last year, ‘Eileen’ is published this week in the UK and could well be a contender for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist due to be announced next Tuesday. Many thanks to Random House UK for sending me a review copy of ‘Eileen’ via NetGalley.

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

  1. Wow this sounds excellent. So glad I caught your review!

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  2. I somewhat like unreliable narrators – like Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby – because it makes it so much more interesting to uncover the ‘truth’ whilst reading. And the fact that Eileen is a complicated character narrated by an unreliable narrator makes me wanna read this book 🙂
    If you’re interested, you can check out my reviews too.

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  3. This sounds curious, and I love the cover. Eileen, slightly reminds me of Cheryl from Miranda July’s ‘The First Bad Man’, whose thoughts were weird, and disturbing. But looks like Eileen’s problems are bigger. I surely want to read this book.

    Thank you for this post. 🙂

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  4. Loved this book – Eileen is a truly memorable character. I reckon it’s a strong contender for the Baileys.

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  5. I was mesmerized by Eileen – I couldn’t put it down!
    I felt the same way about Rebecca, but I loved reading about Eileen so much that any flaws in the book didn’t matter to me.
    It would be interesting to read about the changes that took place in her over the years to become the seemingly ‘normal’ narrator.

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  6. I saw her interviewed in The Guardian, looks like an interesting read, she is an interesting and inspirational character herself, the author.

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  7. Sounds interesting although probably not for me. A good review!

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  11. Great review…..I will definitely read this book

    Liked by 1 person

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