Favorite Books of the 2010s: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

This is a series of reviews of my favorite books published between 2010 and 2019.


Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (2015)

Eileen is a most unpleasant character, a twenty-four-year-old girl working as a secretary in a juvenile delinquent facility for boys, enabling her verbally abusive father’s alcoholism, doing everything she can to make herself disappear. This is the story of the last week she spends living with her father in her unnamed dead-end hometown in Massachusetts, the week of Christmas, related from the vantage point of fifty years later, when she has long since given up being Eileen altogether. The turning point that finally catalyzes inert Eileen into movement is the arrival at the prison of an exciting, glamorous woman, Rebecca, whom Eileen instantly idealizes.

The writing here reminds me of Shirley Jackson, although Moshfegh lacks Jackson’s acerbic wit. Here, as Jackson frequently did, Moshfegh climbs deep into the head of a disturbed young woman and lets us look out at the world through her eyes. It’s not a fun head to be in–the sections about the laxatives were enough to turn my stomach–but Moshfegh manages to make Eileen a believable and sometimes pitiable person in spite of herself. Rebecca, on the other hand, was much more of an enigma, and sometimes I questioned whether she even existed or whether the events unfolded as Eileen related them; some of the plot developments seemed a bit too convenient. But in all, this is a well-done character study, thought-provoking and sometimes queasiness-inducing, and I found myself wondering what horrific things Eileen became involved in after leaving town.

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