Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Anyone who’s picked up Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen because they’ve heard that it’s ‘the next Gone Girl‘ should chill. It’s not Gone Girl. In fact, it’s nothing like Gone Girl. I imagine that the reference was made because both books have a female character that is not very nice. The similarities end there.

Eileen is a character study, written in the first person. The reader is quickly exposed to Eileen’s dark, repulsive and disconcerting thoughts.

Although very little happens for the first three-quarters of the book, Moshfegh manages to create exquisite tension – you know that Eileen will become unhinged and she doesn’t disappoint. When glamorous Rebecca Saint John arrives at Eileen’s workplace (Eileen is a secretary at a juvenile correctional facility for boys), Eileen is infatuated and unable to resist anything Rebecca asks of her.

Moshfegh has created a remarkable character in Eileen. Her bitterness, resentment, and her self-obsessed monologue doesn’t waver for an instant. She’s judgmental, seething, and filthy, and I couldn’t tear my eyes from the page.

It’s a story about control and Moshfegh uses every available element to explore the theme – from Eileen’s workplace (the jail) and her toxic but dependent relationship with her alcoholic father, to her lewd fantasies about co-worker, Randy, her preoccupation with her body and the fact that she drinks excessively – every detail contributes to the theme.

“Here was the crux of my dilemma: I felt like killing my father, but I didn’t want him to die. I think he understood.”

Eileen’s self-obsession is spectacular. She loathes her body and her bodily functions, yet at the same time derives weird pleasure from them – she doesn’t wash her hands after using the toilet; she chews caramels and spits them back into the wrappers; she swills Vermouth to cover bad breath; she has a laxative habit and relishes her weekly ‘release’; and she doesn’t like showering –

“I like to stew in my own filth sometimes. Like a little secret under my clothes.”

Her resentment and her self-loathing is captured perfectly in this –

“I rarely smiled genuinely enough to forget to hold my lip down over my teeth. I think I’ve mentioned how my upper lip had a tendency to pull up my gums. Nothing came easily to me. Nothing.”

There are whispers that Eileen will make the Baileys Prize longlist next week – it would certainly be worthy, because although this book presents as suspense and reads as a true page-turner, the writing is outstanding –

“Her lipstick was a cheap and insincere fuchsia.”

“You can always tell something when a woman is overdressed – either she’s an outsider, or she’s insane.”

“…she had no shame. I wondered what sort of ecstasy there was to be had without shame to incite it.”

4/5 Unsettling, repulsive (and I mean that in the best possible way).

I received my copy of Eileen from the publisher, Random House UK, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The book is all about gin (no wonder I loved it!). Eileen and her father swig it straight from the bottle but I’m selecting this Elderflower Spanish Gin & Tonic – it’s on my list of things to do.


29 responses

  1. Your review brought back memories of this fine ultra-realistic novel ‘Eileen’. I hope it does get nominated for the Bailey’s Prize, because it is a dark slice of life.

    • I must admit that this is quite different to the sort of books I normally read – I guess it would be classed as noir. Maybe because it was so different to my usual fare that I found it so compelling – I really couldn’t put it down. Some reviews on Goodreads suggest “not much happens” – well, kind of true, but you didn’t much. I did wonder if the people who thought the ending was a letdown are more familiar with this genre and have higher expectations??

      • Not usually my kind of thing, either, but I read a Naomi’s review over at Consumed by Ink which had convinced me even before I’d seen yours. You could be right – perhaps the Goodreads reviewers were more accustomed to traditional crime fiction.

    • I was interested to see that many reviewers were quite sympathetic toward Eileen – I didn’t really feel that way but did wonder what the author’s intention was in that respect.

  2. I loved this book and although I read it about a year ago, I still remember Eileen vividly. You are correct – nothing like Gone Girl.

    • I’ve also noted people comparing it to ‘Girl on a Train’ – I haven’t read that book yet so can’t comment but I’m always wary of these types of comparisons because I find you read differently (ie comparing and anticipating rather than just enjoying).

  3. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from this one, either. And your review brings back all the repulsive but delicious memories! This one is proof that not much needs to happen in a book for it to be a page-turner.
    ā€œI like to stew in my own filth sometimes. Like a little secret under my clothes.ā€ Says it all.

    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – not much really happens but still so good. I reckon the creepiest bits were when she was at work, observing the other secretaries and Randy – weird.

  4. I absolutely loved this book. I read it a while back but will never, ever forget it that’s for sure. I’d been on a streak of reading books that just didn’t satisfy me, and when I read this one my faith was restored! Amongst other things, to me, “Eileen” was a book about a woman’s survival. It was the kind of book, for me, that although I couldn’t wait to turn the page I also wanted to savor each and every word. And, the fact that it’s location which I believe was Cape Cod, MA made it even more enticing as I live very close by….I could actually envision in my mind’s eye the landscapes. o.k. I gotta stop here. I have a tendency to get a bit on the over-excited side when I read a great book.

    • I agree that her writing created a vivid atmosphere – the frequent mentions of the snow, cold air and the fact that she had to keep the car windows down despite it being winter were brilliant.

      Did you feel sympathy for Eileen? I didn’t really (but I think that’s because of her odd relationship with her father – hated him and yet they were drinking buddies?!?!) but some reviews I’ve read really cast her a victim. Interesting.

      • I felt compassion for Eileen.
        Being raised in an abusive home by two alcoholics isn’t exactly conducive to raising snormally adjusted children. Having been raised in a similar dysfunctional home, I know how devastating to a child’s soul that can be. Again, I think of Eileen as a survivor.

      • I think another element of the story that was important ( and that I didn’t really think a lot about) was the fact that Eileen grew up with a cop as a father. How did this change her attitude to authority? And trust? Particularly given that her parents both drank

      • I never gave thought to Eileen’s father being a cop. I think it likely just added to her ‘peculiarities’ though. I mean, just the obvious…cops are supposed to be people you go to for help and protection as are parents. And, especially as a child I think that belief is even stronger especially because a child’s sense of good and bad is so “black and white”…..Imagine Eileen’s confusion not to mention her disappointment at the reality. It clearly contributed. Ill have to think about it some more. Fabulous point. I missed it. Thanks for bringing it up.

  5. Pingback: Book Prizes. I love them. | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

  6. Pingback: Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

  7. Pingback: Gin-lit (it’s a thing) | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

  8. Pingback: Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

  9. Pingback: ‘Eileen’ by Ottessa Moshfegh – Reading Matters

  10. Pingback: Demi-Gods by Eliza Robertson | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.