Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh is not a book I would have picked up on my own, but man am I glad I’ve read it! I can’t remember which wonderful blog I saw the review on but thank you so much for introducing me to this amazing book!
Eileen is one of those intensely interesting books despite not much happening (at least not until near the end). The novel takes place in the 60s and is narrated by an older Eileen, one who is able to view her past self more objectively. The Eileen of the 60s is filled with self-loathing, stuck in a job she finds dull and with only her alcoholic father for company she is a lonely figure. Despite everything that happens in the novel Eileen deserves some sympathy, her childhood was lonely and loveless – she describes her mother throwing her dolls away when she was just 6 and her sister was always the more loved (although there is a hint in the novel as to why).
Eileen is also somewhat repellent – she doesn’t like to shower, has odd moments of sexual desire whilst also describing herself as a prude, and is disgusted by very little. There is a strong focus on the body in the novel, both Eileen’s hatred of her own and fascination of others, and a strange, almost obsessive, attention on bodily functions. This is very much a character novel, and Moshfegh has expertly created this character, allowing for a creepy but engaging tone.
Eileen’s obsession with various people and her tendency to dream and fantasize show her unreliability as a narrator, both when she inhabits her younger voice and as an older woman. I couldn’t help but wonder what, if anything, really happened.
I was slightly disappointed by the obvious clues at the end of the novel as to what was about to happen. Being able to easily figure out where it was heading but having to wait about 3 pages to have it confirmed was frustrating. Although this did fit well with the character, as Eileen is sometimes naive of the reality of the world around her.
There are so many amazing lines in this novel – Moshfegh is a truly brilliant writer – so here are just a few.
‘The dream of New York City beckoned like the twinkling lights of the cinema marquee – a promise of darkness and distraction, temporary and at a cost, but anything was better than sitting around’
‘A grown woman is like a coyote – she can get by on very little. Men are more like house cats. Leave them alone for too long and they’ll die of sadness.’
‘Idealism without consequences is the pathetic dream of every spoilt brat’
I loved this novel! It is so well written, Eileen is such an interesting character, and the eventual action within the plot make for a great read. Moshfegh is a genius writer, and one who I’ll be reading more of. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year!