Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh


December 2023

As enthralling, clever, inventive, utterly grim and brilliantly unexpected as I was expecting. Eileen was Ottessa Moshfegh’s breakthrough novel in 2015 but I missed it and jumped straight to My Year of Rest and Relaxation (also very dark and enchanting and sort of bananas).

I’m not a genre expert but Eileen reads as a slick blend of noir, thriller, and psychological whodunnit, told in retrospect by an old woman who was once the titular Eileen until she escaped her relentlessly grotesque existence as the self conscious daughter of an alcoholic ex cop. Her mother has died, her sister’s left home, and Eileen works at a young offenders’ institute. She has no friends until the captivating Rebecca turns up to shake up the institution and change the course of Eileen’s life forever.

Moshfegh drops readers directly into the sweaty underbelly of 1950s America. Despite the prim neighbourhood Eileen lives in, every character is cruel or abusive or cartoonish; there is no kindness or love or joy - until Rebecca turns up with her suspicious offer of friendship and incongruous wiles.

I immediately feel desperately sorry for Eileen, however gross the descriptions of her bathroom habits. I want her to succeed so much given everything stacked against her and whatever ends she’s goes to.

We’re pulled through the story keenly thanks to the reminders of the narrator’s vantage point many years’ hence, but I was stunned by the turn it takes.

I’d better take a friend to watch the film as I’ll be too terrified to walk home alone afterwards.

I got this beautiful Vintage Classics edition from World of Books