Eileen ~ by Ottessa Moshfegh

This is not for the feint at heart!    I might have read it anyway,  but it was chosen  for a group (BookerPrize Group  for August).   I  postponed it until closer to the discussion,  but couldn’t wait anymore     I knew the schedule and it came up on sale.  (lol)

I disliked every single character in this book.  They are all (every one of them) sick, ugly, and very realistically drawn.   That said,  the combination makes for a good story and I certainly don’t judge a book by if I “like” the characters.  .


by Ottessa Moshfegh
2016 / 272 pages
read by Aylssa Bresnahan – 8h 46m
rating – 7/A  –   literary suspense 

Eileen Dunlop is a youngish woman whose mother died some years prior and at the point of the main story lives alone with her father.  Her father is a chronic drunkard – a danger.    Eileen is not much better,  but she’s young,  employed at a juvenile detention center,  and not really dangerous.   She tells us her story in 1st person from the vantage point of a couple decades later.

Eileen’s mental issues are apparent from the start –  she’s incredibly self-pitying,  resentful and judgmental.  She and her father have let the house fall apart in the worst ways and she’s lazy,  smelly,  skinny,  friendless –  hateful really.   She even despises herself and she’s horribly lonely.  She’s wanted to leave for years.   Eileen seems to be telling us the truth of the ugly situation – as she sees it anyway – that’s not a problem.

Then one day a new co-worker shows up at the detention center and befriends Eileen.  Rebecca St. John is everything Eileen wants in a friend – and that’s where the thriller part starts.   Prior to this it’s been all about getting the character of Eileen right,  realistic and gritty,  disgusting even to herself.

Moshfegh’s palettes are big and small, fictional realms that are often vague in a way that makes them allegorical almost, universal in their blurriness and yet at the same time meticulously rendered with specific details. And she often does this with little attention to theme. Her fiction offers a sense that is of our world but also altogether hostile to clear distillation of it. Here is art that manages to reject artifice and yet be something wholly new and itself in sheer artistry.

You read Moshfegh to hear Moshfegh through her characters, as you might Donald Barthelme — the author’s sensibility is almost a character in itself.

The suspense is excellent and the writing good enough to get the book short-listed for the Booker Prize.  If you enjoy suspense and can tolerate a fair amount of wickedness, (retold,  not graphic)   I say go for it.


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