After My Year of Rest and Relaxation became one of my favorite reads of 2018, I was eager to pick up Eileen, Moshfegh’s debut novel, one that earned her an immense amount of praise and a spot on the Booker shortlist. Though in the end I would say I prefer My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Eileen stands by itself as a masterpiece of fiction.
From the back cover:
The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, a young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and her day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a buff prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When the bright, beautiful, cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the prison’s new counselor, Eileen is enchanted and proves unable to resist what appears at first to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings. Played out against the snowy landscape of coastal New England, young Eileen’s story is told from the gimlet-eyed perspective of the now much older narrator. Creepy, mesmerizing, and sublimely funny, in the tradition of Shirley Jackson and early Vladimir Nabokov, this powerful debut novel introduces on of the most original new voices in contemporary literature.
“As is typical for any isolated, intelligent young person, I thought I was the only one with any consciousness, any awareness of how odd it was to be alive, to be a creature on this strange planet Earth.”
-Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen
Moshfegh knows how to write some truly captivating voices, spoken by some of the most peculiarly-relatable characters I’ve read. Our titular Eileen is quirky beyond belief, obsessed with her bowel movements and bodily fluids. She makes herself out to be so unlikable that she does, indeed, become likeable. Eileen reminded me heavily of Eleanor Oliphant in a socially-awkward yet sympathetic way. Eileen is not a novel you read for the story, but rather for Eileen herself.
“You can see wealth in people no matter what they’re wearing. It’s in the cut of their chins, a certain gloss to the skin, a drag and pause to their responsiveness. When poor people hear a loud noise, they whip their heads around. Wealthy people finish their sentences, then just glance back.”
-Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen
Eileen is a sort of psychological thriller with an emphasis on character and language rather than plot, like a more literary Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. It took me a minute to get into the story, but once I was, I was absolutely hooked. I will keep recommending Moshfegh (even though she writes the most frustrating endings) as I wait patiently for what she does next.
Find this book on Goodreads.