Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Review: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

First line: I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus, reading some clothbound book from the library about plants or geography, perhaps wearing a net over my light brown hair.

I pretty much wanted to read this one the moment it came out; between the cover, the Boston setting, and the sense of noir-ish-ness I got from the plot, it seemed like a sure hit for me. I made it the January pick for my book club and ... I'm glad I read this book, but I'm really ambivalent about it. (Most of my book club hated it, although more than one person admired the raw narrative style.)

Set around Christmas in 1963, the novel is narrated by Eileen. A much older Eileen tells us this story, and she offers up her younger self on a platter, unvarnished and exposed.

Eileen works as a secretary in a boy's juvenile detention facility/prison. She lives with her father, an retired police office and alcoholic who is plagued by terrors (and perhaps mental illness). Eileen's life shuttles between work and home, where she spends most of her time in resentful meditation of her small world and the people in it. She loathes everyone around her, and she has no escape from the misery, real or self-induced. It's only when Rebecca, the pretty and cheerful and unorthodox new counselor arrives does Eileen's life change.

This book felt straight-up Catcher in the Rye, but with a lady; only Eileen is a hell of a lot more honest than Holden ever was, and definitely more badass. (In her vicious, restrained way.) Older Eileen, our narrator, seems well adjusted despite, frankly, being such a cold, odd young woman; yet she recounts this time period with a squeamish attention to detail, savoring the ways she was horrible and monstrous and naive. I couldn't decide if I wanted to revile or hug Eileen.

Most of the book reads kind of like a coming-of-age; but in the last quarter of the book, the story makes a jackknife dive into seriously effed up territory, and that's when I started to really enjoy things. There was a real noir-ish feel to the story that I just ate up.

So...I think I liked this book? I can't tell. But I'm a bit obsessed with it; Moshfegh's open admission she wrote it to gain fame and success has me breathlessly in awe of her.

If you enjoy unlikable characters and messed up young women, seedy settings and depressed dissolution, get this one. (And then tell me because I want to obsess about the end!)

Title: Eileen
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / 1960s / Boston / Coming of Age / Female Friendship / Revenge / Obsession / Prisons)
Publisher/Publication Date: Penguin Press (8/18/2015)
Source: NetGalley


  1. I don't mind unlikable characters but think I'd have to be in the right mood to read this. It sounds very depressing.

  2. I loved this book, but I do love morbidity - there's something fascinating about it. :)