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So here we are. My name was Eileen Dunlop. Now you know me. I was twenty-four years old then, and had a job that paid fifty-seven dollars a week as a kind of secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys. I think of it now as what it really was for all intents and purposes—a prison for boys. I will call it Moorehead. Delvin Moorehead was a terrible landlord I had years later, and so to use his name for such a place feels appropriate. In a week, I would run away from home and never go back.

This is the story of how I disappeared.

The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and 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, and cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at Moorehead, 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 in the days leading up to Christmas, 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 enthralls and shocks, and introduces one of the most original new voices in contemporary literature. Ottessa Moshfegh is also the author of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Homesick for Another World: Stories, and McGlue.

260 pages, Hardcover

First published August 18, 2015

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About the author

Ottessa Moshfegh

41 books14.7k followers
Ottessa Moshfegh is a fiction writer from New England. Eileen, her first novel, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction. My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Death in Her Hands, her second and third novels, were New York Times bestsellers. She is also the author of the short story collection Homesick for Another World and a novella, McGlue. She lives in Southern California.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 9,744 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,978 reviews170k followers
June 24, 2018
I couldn't be bothered to deal with fixing things. I preferred to wallow in the problem, dream of better days.

this book takes place in the early sixties and is about a woman named eileen dunlop, a tightly wound and inwardly unstable twenty-four-year old woman who works at a juvenile correctional facility for boys and lives with her alcoholic father in a shambles of a house. it chronicles the events of one week in a frigid new england winter after which she will unexpectedly leave town, never to return. it's about obsession, crime, loneliness, frustration and a slow psychological unraveling.

this is one of the best character studies i can remember reading in a long time. eileen is an incredibly richly-detailed unreliable narrator; she is simultaneously sympathetic and repellent, and i could not look away. i love her voice, i love her dismal preoccupation with her body - its size, its secretions, its capacity as a humbling agent. i love how "outside" she is, how outwardly frigid yet prone to passionate fantasies. she is memorable, and when you inhale books the way i do, that statement says a lot. for me this character development trumped the mystery element, and the overall creepy tone was perfectly executed.

this is probably my favorite passage, because its focus keeps spiraling deeper and deeper, displaying her patterns of vicious self-scrutiny and rigorous self-control. it's heartbreaking and fascinating, like so much of this book.

I'd never learned how to relate to people, much less how to speak up for myself. I preferred to sit and rage quietly. I'd been a silent child, the kind to suck my thumb long enough to buck out my front teeth. I was lucky they did not buck out too far, still of course I felt my mouth was horse-like and ugly, and so I barely smiled. When I did smile, I worked very hard to keep my top lip from riding up, something that required great restraint, self-awareness, and self-control. The time I spent disciplining that lip, you would not believe. I truly felt that the inside of my mouth was such a private area, caverns and folds of wet parting flesh, that letting anyone see into it was just as bad as spreading my legs. People did not chew gum as regularly then as we do now. That was considered very childish. So I kept a bottle of Listerine in my locker and swished it often, and sometimes swallowed it if I didn't think I could get to the ladies' room sink without having to open my mouth to speak. I didn't want anyone to think I was susceptible to bad breath, or that there were any organic processes occurring inside my body at all. Having to breathe was an embarrassment in itself. This was the kind of girl I was.

so much of her experiences are made up of this combination of discomfort and endurance, of sacrifice and avoidance.

Outside I tested the temperature with the tip of my tongue, sticking it out into the biting wind until it hurt. That night it must have been down close to single digits. It hurt just to breathe. But I preferred cold weather over hot. Summers I was restless and cranky. I'd break out in rashes, have to lie in cold baths…I did not like to sweat in front of people. Such proof of carnality I found lewd, disgusting. Similarly, I did not like to dance or do sports. I did not listen to the Beatles or watch Ed Sullivan on TV. I wasn't interested in fun or popularity back then. I preferred to read about ancient times, distant lands. Knowledge of anything current or faddish made me feel I was just a victim of isolation. If I avoided all that on purpose, I could believe I was in control.

control is a big part of eileen's persona. her repression, her confined rage, the death mask she turns to the world. and yet, even in this she is erratic, deliberately compromising that control with alcohol, letting the mask slip a bit while deluding herself that she is still well-armored.

she suffers from body dysmorphia, hides herself under matronly clothes far too old for her, frequently from the closet of her deceased mother. she feels flaccid, huge, ugly, but occasionally lets slip details that contradict her self-assessment:

That night I lay on my cot and poked at my belly, counted my ribs, squished at my guts with gloved fingers. It was cold up in the attic, and that cot was flimsy. It just barely bore my weight: one hundred pounds with clothes on, if that.

but for all her self-possession, she is still prone to vivid erotic fantasies, tamped-down under her disgust with the body and its needs, but fiery for all that.

I spent many hours watching his biceps flick and pump as he turned each page of his comic book. When I imagine him now, I think of the way he'd swerve a toothpick around in his mouth. It was beautiful. It was poetry. I asked him once, nervous and ridiculous, whether he felt cold wearing just short sleeves in winter. He shrugged. Still waters ran deep, I thought, nearly swooning. It was pointless to fantasize, but I couldn't help imagine one day he'd throw stones at my attic window, motorcycle steaming out in front of the house, melting the whole town to hell. I was not immune to that sort of thing.

however, i think this might be one of those books that is a "for me" without being a "for everyone." the structure of the book is a bit of a tease - the narrative loops over and upon itself, slowly drawing out the tension, building suspense, leaving a trail of tantalizing hinty bread crumbs that will eventually lead up to the big WHAT HAPPENED, but when it comes time for the WHAT HAPPENED to HAPPEN, its a solid thump without being an explosion. which is better than a fizzle, but it's not nearly as dramatic a release as all that pressurized tension seemed to be heading towards. could i be more vague? why yes, i believe i could.

i just don't want to be too spoilery, while being completely honest. the tension and the build here is perfect hitchcock/highsmith, but the payoff itself is not a complete success in the ratio of expectation to delivery. for me, this is often the case with mystery/psychological suspense novels, so it didn't mar my enjoyment one bit, but i can see how some would be frustrated. and who knows - maybe for you it WILL be explosive and satisfying. i'm just me. and i loved both the character and the thick and claustrophobic writing enough to excuse what was, for me, a somewhat unsatisfying ending. like The Girl on the Train, it's the ride of the read that carries this book, not the way it resolves. and i loved the ride.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Jaidee.
580 reviews1,106 followers
August 30, 2020
5 "repugnant, vile, fierce, exhibitionistic" stars !!!

10th Favorite Read of 2016

I have never been so reluctant to give a book 5 stars.

This is a book that directs all its murky gaze on the darkness that lurks within women. Ms. Moshfegh slowly and repetitively dissects Eileen into all her gory parts from the darkness of her sexual fantasies that include post-pubescent boys, unattainable women, to visualizing her coworkers engaging in sex that both disgusts and titilates her. Eileen's psyche is laid bare and we see ugliness, neediness, pettiness, the most humble of narcissism that makes others rebuke her, diminish and humiliate her. Her body is also scrutinized from her breasts, to vaginal lips to bony hips to the frequency of her bowel movements and her lack of feminine hygiene. Eileen is deprived, ugly, hurt and this comes out in a myriad of ways. We are disgusted by Eileen and because of this we recoil but like the disgusting voyeurs that we are move in closer and look through our fingers at her while we pinch our noses and hold our breath.

Eileen is too weak to be an anti-hero and not evil enough to be a villain. She is the repository of all the misogyny we experience as a society and the opposite side of the coin is Rebecca who will not enter this conversation but suffice to say is the elixir that enables Eileen to break free from her depravity and enter less hellish and freer states.

Ms. Moshfegh has written a book that is so haunting, frightening and demoralizing that you will look at all the women you meet with cautiousness and suspicion. No loving grandmas, indulgent aunts, nurturing mothers, devoted wives or obedient daughters. Evil lies at the hearts of the best of them or weakness and ugliness in the worst.

I have to say that I do have some regrets reading this book as it was like eating spoilt meat (it will upset my digestion and cause me some anguish) for a few days until the wonderful women in my life can reassure me that Eileen, Rebecca and Mrs. Polk are the rarest of breeds and perhaps only exist in the darkest reaches of our imagination.

Fucking brilliant Ms. Moshfegh but please do not ever, ever, ever write a new edition of Heidi, Annie or Pippi Longstocking.

Jokes aside....I want the impact of this book to diminish quickly !!
Profile Image for Wendy Darling.
1,571 reviews33.9k followers
August 28, 2015
3.5 stars If you didn't like The Girl on the Train, you certainly won't like this. If you're interested in characters over plot, however, this is another solid entry into a excellent year for psychological thrillers.

Eileen is one of the most pitiable and despicable characters I've ever read; she is not only neurotically self-absorbed and insecure and suffering from severe sexual and emotional repression, but she's also prone to feverishly obsessive behavior. She lewdly fixates on a muscular guard who works at the prison where she's employed, she casually wonders how much time someone would serve to be with a young boy who's incarcerated, and she is all too eager to succumb to the charms of a beautiful new female counselor who is intent upon befriending her. It's uncomfortable and often disgusting being in Eileen's head, but it's absolutely riveting as well.

I think it's so interesting to read these portrayals of unlikeable and loathsome women; we come in all shapes and colors and personalities, and while there are a lot of anti-heroes or men behaving badly who are the main characters in books as television and film, it's much rarer to see the focus on a non-sympathetic woman, particularly ones like Eileen or Rachel who aren't glamorous, seductive creatures. The Amy Dunnes of the world are the secondary characters in these books, and while this seems unpalatable to some readers, these types of characters are much more nuanced and realistic to me.

Anyway--as a mystery, this one's pretty straightforward, and I wish the ending was stronger. But as a character study, this book is completely absorbing and fascinating.
Profile Image for Conny.
11 reviews5 followers
February 25, 2016
Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut novel Eileen sounded like a great and intriguing read. The 1960’s, a girl’s escape from a boring life in a small New England town, a mysterious crime – there are lots of interesting plot points going for this book, which will be released in August 2015.

Unfortunately, this does not necessarily translate to the writing. Don’t get me wrong, Eileen Dunlop is an interesting yet thoroughly unlikable character, and her insights into her life range from bland and depressive to curious and strange. But the story drags on. There is no action, and a lot of repetitions. You constantly feel like surely, next page, something is going to happen. Not so much out of suspense, but rather because you see the pages of the book running out. The interesting plot only starts at the very end, where the reader finally finds out what hideous crime Eileen was involved in.

Eileen’s story is told in the first person, by an Eileen who is fifty years older and looking back on her life. First person narrative told by a despicable character in flashback is a bold choice for any novel, let alone a debut novel. Sometimes it works, but sadly, in this case, it does not.

With its depressing story and dragging plot, I had to force myself to finish reading, and found myself ready to simply abandon the book several times. The twist is neither “Hitchcockian,” nor is the writing anything “like Shirley Jackson or early Vladimir Nabokov,” as the description claimed.

If you want a slow, dull and very sad character study, look no further. If you want a plot twist that would make Hitchcock proud – look elsewere.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,149 reviews1,680 followers
March 12, 2023

”Orlando furioso” di Lutz & Guggisberg, 2018. Foto Nadine Kägi.

Sì, lo odiavo, ma ero molto obbediente. Eravamo solo noi due a casa, papà e io. Ho una sorella, è ancora viva per quanto ne sappia, ma non ci parliamo da più di cinquant’anni.

Ottessa Moshfegh, nata a Boston nel 1981, si presenta con un nome e un cognome che non passano inosservati, frutto dell’incrocio di una madre croata e un padre ebreo iraniano, entrambi musicisti che insegnano al conservatorio.
E si presenta con un interessante curriculum letterario: racconti pubblicati da riviste quali Paris Review, New Yorker, Granta, poi raccolti nel volume Nostalgia di un altro mondo, la novella McGlue (da noi inedita), qualche premio letterario, questo primo romanzo (finalista al Booker Prize, poi vinto da Lo schiavista di Paul Betty), un nuovo romanzo uscito quest’anno, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, che presumo sia in corso di traduzione.

”Macchina portasapone” di Lutz & Guggisberg, 2018. Foto Nadine Kägi.

Immaginavo sempre che le case degli altri fossero più belle della mia, piene di mobili in legno lucidi e caminetti eleganti e calze appese per il Natale. Biscotti nella credenza e tagliaerba in garage. Era facile pensare che tutti se la passassero meglio di me allora. In fondo alla mia strada, un portico illuminato mi riempiva di tristezza.

Mi chiedo come sia capitata tra le mie mani: perché nulla ne sapevo, mai sentita nominare prima, né lei né il romanzo. Ma evidentemente qualcosa avevo letto e qualcosa mi aveva colpito al punto da affrontarla.
Ora che l’ho letta, guardo in giro e vedo commenti che parlano di trama traballante, di storia che non funziona fino in fondo, di lentezze, di verbosità autodescrittiva a scapito del racconto, paragoni a La campana di vetro di Sylvia Plath, libro che ho molto amato e non vedo che c’azzecchi [cit], a Kate Mosse, che conosco di nome ma non so cosa scriva (e probabilmente io sono più a mio agio con Kate Moss).

”Bolle di gas serra” di Lutz & Guggisberg, 2018. Foto Nadine Kägi.

La conoscenza di cose attuali o alla moda mi faceva sentire soltanto una vittima dell’isolamento. Se le evitavo di proposito, potevo credere di avere il controllo della situazione.

E per una volta mi viene da pensare che l’accoglienza è stata più tiepida di quanto questo romanzo meriti. Perché a me è piaciuto molto. Molto.

È uno strano thriller, che per un pezzo si fa fatica a considerare tale.
Se non che Moshfegh scandisce rigorosamente il tempo, giorno per giorno di una settimana cruciale nella vita della giovane protagonista Eileen (24 anni), fino a concludere il primo magistrale capitolo intitolato “1964”, l’anno in cui sono ambientati i fatti, come segue:
Una settimana più tardi, sarei scappata da casa per non tornarci più. Questa è la storia di come sono scomparsa.

“Listello senza fine” di Lutz & Guggisberg, 2018. Foto Nadine Kägi.

Ancora mi chiedo la ragione della virgola qui sopra. E pormi domande è un’attività che mi piace. Un altro punto a vantaggio di Ottessa Moshfegh.

Eileen racconta in prima persona. E lo fa con la voce di cinquant’anni dopo: è scappata, è fuggita, ce l’ha fatta, è ancora viva, sta bene. Questo lo dice subito. E qui e là spiffera anche qualcosa che le è successo durante questi cinquanta anni, lancia esche alle quali io abbocco, al punto che ne vorrei sapere di più, e sarei contento di leggere un romanzo su questi cinquanta anni di Eileen, che credo abbia anche cambiato nome per marcare la distanza dai fatti narrati qui.

“Il giardino” di Lutz & Guggisberg, 2018. Foto Nadine Kägi.

Eileen è spietata nel descriversi, nel raccontarsi, nel dirci chi c’è intorno a lei, cosa fa (lavora in un carcere maschile minorile, chiamarlo riformatorio è un eufemismo), la desolazione e lo scoramento della sua esistenza, l’abbrutimento e il degrado della gente che conosce (il padre, la madre morta, le colleghe): un mondo che come minimo si può affettuosamente definire anaffettivo.

Negli Stati Uniti che capita più spesso di frequentare veder fumare fa più stupore che un procione alla porta di casa: invece nelle serie TV, nei film, e ancora più nei libri si fuma tuttora tantissimo.
A me colpisce perfino di più che tutti ‘sti fumatori sentano odori a ripetizione: le pagine dei romanzi sono pieni della descrizione di odori, di solito disgustosi, ripugnanti.
E feci, vomito, orina, topi morti tenuti nel vano portaoggetti dell’automobile, polvere sporcizia resti di cibo e bevande… Questo è il mondo di Eileen. Che Moshfegh analizza ancor più che descrivere – così come analizza molto se stessa.

”Il wawuschel della pescaia” di Lutz & Guggisberg, 2018. Foto Nadine Kägi.

Poi, è successo che dove credevo il libro si ammosciasse, in zona finale, invece registri un’impennata pazzesca (questa volta sto ben attento agli spoiler, perché è una delle rare volte che è bene essere prudente con le anticipazioni), di quelle “ti prendo e ti porto via”. Magistrale, avvincente, emozionante. Fino al punto che non sono riuscito a mettere giù il libro per le ultime cinquanta pagine nonostante i fornelli e la cena.

“Dopo il letargo” di Lutz & Guggisberg, 2018. Foto Nadine Kägi.

Io sono stato attento alle sue parole, ho seguito passo passo il suo racconto: ma al finale non ero proprio pronto. Un magnifico colpo a sorpresa, che a posteriori è sembrato non solo perfetto, ma anche l’unico giusto.
E in qualche strano modo, pur nella diversità, ho ritrovato Patricia Highsmith, forse perfino più brava.

Ma ero giovane e sufficientemente sottomessa dalla mia educazione conservatrice e da mio padre e dal suo cattolicesimo, e sufficientemente timorosa di essere punita o interrogata o esclusa, da ubbidire a qualsiasi regola. Seguivo ogni singola procedura. Certo, potreste dire che ero una ladra, una pervertita, e anche una bugiarda, ma nessuno lo sapeva.

Ottessa Moshfegh
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,453 followers
March 17, 2018

In the past few years quite by chance I have come across a rich seam of female self-loathing in fiction. You might think that women writers would be all about positive tales of overcoming the bleakness, and I’m sure many are, but not in these books:

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino – the unnamed un-beautiful older sister spends her whole life hating everybody especially herself
A Day Off by Storm Jameson – the unnamed middle-aged alcoholic frump spends a day hating everybody especially herself
Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill – the unnamed (am I seeing a pattern here) wife spends a solid year or so hating mostly herself
Dietland by Sarai Walker – Plum Kettle (hey, unroll your eyes, that’s her name) spends her entire life self-loathing her own plus size body
All of Jean Rhys’ novels except Wide Sargasso Sea - the variously names alcoholic heroines, all of whom are Jean, spend their allotted few months in each book totally hating themselves and pretty much everything else (the curtains, the breakfast egg, etc)
The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek – the gold standard of female self-loathing against which all other self-loathers are to be judged – Erica Kohut spends her entire waking moments hating herself and everything else to such a level of frenzy that the women in the above-mentioned books would only look on in envy, and loathe themselves a little bit more because they couldn’t quite get to the level of loathingness Erica Kohut achieves with seeming ease.

Enter Eileen Dunlop, 24 years old, living in a filthy house with her crazed alcoholic father who let’s her know just how plain and dim she is every day. She works as a secretary at a private boy’s prison. She has put all her father's shoes in the boot of her car to stop him roaming around their cold New England town terrorising the citizens by peeing in their gardens, sleeping in their porches and so forth. He’s an ex-cop so all the current cops are very sympathetic. She dutifully buys his drink and she hates herself and her life, in great detail. Here is here relationship with her father:

I was an adult. I knew that. I had no curfew. There were no official house rules. There were only my father’s arbitrary rages, and when he was in one he would only relax if I agreed to whatever odd, humiliating punishment he came up with. He’d bar me from the kitchen, order me to walk to Lardner’s and back in the rain. The worst crime I could commit in his eyes was to do anything for my own pleasure, anything outside my daughterly duties.

Ugh – I mean, it’s not Stalag 15 (I’ve heard of worse things than walking to the liquor store in the rain) but the unremittingness of Eileen’s life gets you. She is has no friends, she’s introverted, obsessed with her own body (wait till you get to the pages about her toilet regime, I would tell you about it but you wouldn't want me to) and really she’s a hopeless case.

The blurb lets you know that SOMETHING WILL HAPPEN to this poor wretch, and the novel is divided into days – MONDAY, followed by TUESDAY, the big dramatic buildup, and this works to keep you reading furiously, and yes something DOES happen, but you have to wait for it. (Hint : CHRISTMAS EVE).

Here’s some advice from Eileen which I have made a note of :

When I was very upset, hot and shaking, I had a particular way of controlling myself. I found an empty room and grit my teeth and pinched my nipples while kicking the air like a cancan dancer until I felt foolish and ashamed. That always did the trick.

I am totally going to try that next time I am very upset.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,336 followers
September 18, 2016
Do not read Eileen if you don't like repulsive characters, if you're turned off by graphic descriptions of bodily smells and filth, or if you like your novels to be action packed. Do read Eileen if you like dark character studies and can stand to be strung along for most of a book before getting to the crux of what is being foreshadowed. Eileen -- the narrator -- looks back at a few days in 1964 when she was 24 years, and living a nasty life in a small town with her nasty father working at a nasty job. And Eileen is not particularly nice either -- in fact she's pretty nasty and she pretty much knows it. Enough said. There's no point revealing the plot. This one is an experience rather than a story, and it will work for some and not for others. I liked reading Eileen once I got in the right head space. It's cleverly written -- it's like the layers of an onion slowly being peeled away -- underneath there's still more onion -- but I like onions -- every now and then. Despite the darkness, there's an undercurrent of humour -- dark humour. The end was weird -- but no weirder than the rest of the book, really. I'm not sure I would classify this one as Booker material, but the lists are getting odder every year, so Eileen probably fits as well on the list as other books. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me access to a copy.
Profile Image for Robin.
484 reviews2,615 followers
July 23, 2018
Updated review, July 2018

This is a deadly, pointed book. I was a little afraid to re-read it, worried that it wouldn't live up to my memory. But it did.

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one in the world who loves this book and so I clutch onto it, rather preciously, and feel wounded when I hear vitriolic hatred towards it. I wondered, as I read this weirdly wonderful, obscenely honest little book for the second time, why people hate it so much. I feel like saying to them, in a Jack Nicholson voice, "You can't HANDLE the truth!" Perhaps though the real truth is that when I first read it, this book spoke to me in dark, brave whispers. It told me a woman is out there who writes ruthless, stabbing words as far as she damn wants. And that just maybe, I could do it too. My own words, my own story, not this author's at all, but still. It inspired me in my writing life, and probably that's why I hold it so preciously.

I still love you, Eileen.

* * * *

(original 2016 review)
A moody, dark story, told just PERFECTLY. It meanders at first, leaving you wondering maybe where it's going. I trusted that during these times the author was showing us the character and her reality, which couldn't be summed up in a few paragraphs. Moshfegh used the first few parts of the book to show us the bleakness and pain, and the rotting aspects of Eileen's existence. Also, her extreme loneliness and desire for connection, and her childish innocence of other people's intentions.

I'm repulsed by Eileen (her personal hygiene is actually nauseating), but I'm also rooting for her, because she is so very damaged and emotionally stunted, and deprived (of practically everything - love, joy, food). At age 24, she is full of self loathing, and knows she needs to leave "X-Ville", her job at the prison, and that disgusting home she shares with her abusive and drunk father.

This story is how she gets out - told by a much older and wiser Eileen. Getting out isn't the beginning of a great life (in fact, it sounds like she has quite a hard, long road to go until she ends up by herself, at peace, in her old age), but it is the beginning of that road, which is pivotal for Eileen. It is also about a brief period of happiness in her life; an unlikely love story which propels the action to its inevitable conclusion.

The style reminds me of writers like Shirley Jackson, and Patricia Highsmith. Starkly and unapologetically realistic, yet artistically faultless.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
234 reviews204 followers
July 31, 2022
“Furthermore, 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.”

Trapped between caring for her alcoholic father and her job as a secretary at a boy's prison, Eileen tempers her dreary days with dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, her nights and weekends are filled with shoplifting and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father's messes. When the beautiful, charismatic Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene, Eileen is enchanted. But soon, Eileen's affection for Rebecca will pull her into a crime that far surpasses even her own wild imagination.

This was an unusual book as you keep waiting for something to happen as per the synopsis. However nothing much does until almost the end. The story is well written and descriptive and I could empathise with Eileen and her life's predicament.

Eileen is an interesting character and the raw, at times often nauseating description of her squalid, dismal world give this novel a sense of grim realism. It works fine as a character study but for me, the plot is extremely thin and the supporting characters are not very believable or sympathetic, particularly Rebecca. Moreover, this book glosses over certain issues that would have really given this novel a little more weight, such as the nature of criminal justice and the plight of the individual boys at the prison.

Overall, Eileen wasn't bad but it felt like a lot of build-up... only to feel very deflated. I would have preferred this novel as a character study without the ending which felt a bit contrived to me.

I am however, a big fan of the ‘sad girl’ trope so I do intend to continue reading Moshfegh despite the consecutive 3 star ratings.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,133 followers
February 7, 2017
EILEEN did not work for me.....at all.

EILEEN Dunlap is a 24 year old disturbed young woman. She is unhappy, has atrocious nutrition, personal hygiene and lives like a pig. She has no self-worth, her thoughts for the most part are nasty and morbid and she is trapped in a forlorn life she detests with a passion.......until an 'inane' opportunity to make a change presents itself.

EILEEN has a stagnant, (almost nonexistent) plot that goes nowhere and a repulsive character analysis that seemed to go on forever with an ending that was pretty much a non-event.

Glad this one is over!

Profile Image for Jen CAN.
486 reviews1,356 followers
February 7, 2017
Eileen is nothing like the upbeat sassy song of old, C'mon Eileen. Oh contraire. She is mind shackled and deeply disturbed.

Reminiscing, Eileen tells her story that begins from her early 20's, in a town she refers to as X-ville, in a nonchalant way, telling it like it is. The self loathing; the daydreaming of love and escape; the kleptomania; the lack of hygiene. A misfit haunted by self image issues -No doubt a result from her upbringing and her emotionally distant drunk dad and her dead mother who sounds like she should have gone to the grave sooner.
But just when life is dull, boring and lifeless, in steps a coworker she quickly becomes enamoured with. A 'friend' who alters her life in a more twisted and dark reality.
An engaging read. This was a very different story. Shocking at times - yep, I think my jaw dropped and at times my skin crawled with disgust. Moshfegh has created some unlikeable characters but drives the plot in a direction that is refreshingly disturbing, yet breezy. 3.5*

Profile Image for Felicia.
254 reviews930 followers
September 16, 2019
"What if she could smell that I was menstruating, and that I hadn’t washed? What if she smelled it clear as day but didn’t say anything? How, then, would I know whether or not she’d smelled it, and how ought I act to pretend I didn’t know Rebecca smelled it?"

Welcome to the anxiety-ridden mind of Eileen.

Eileen lives in a perpetual fantasy. Her words, not mine. She will undoubtedly go down in herstory as one of the most memorable characters I have ever read.

This is an "inside the head of a damaged person" kind of story so if that's not your thing, hit the lights on your way out.

Nothing to speak of ever happens in this story, it's just the reader and Eileen suffering through day-to-day life, until it's not.

Eileen takes her time bringing us to the eluded point in her life where everything gets flipped upside down. That point is at 85% and it's as gasp worthy as any moment I have ever read. I mean, set my tablet aside mouthing "what the fuck... WHAT THE FUCK????"

A couple of GR friends have recommended this book to me multiple times and clearly they've been paying attention to my proclivity for dark, disquieting and nefarious stories. This book is everything I love, so thanks ladies, you hit the nail on the thumb with this one.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,001 reviews35.9k followers
March 8, 2017
UPDATE: Kindle $1.99 special today!!!!!!!! I listened to the audiobook --but others who 'read' it also gave this book high reviews. Its a book I'll never forget --but read 'many' reviews!!! --to see if its for you! I loved it!


Eileen.....( LOOKING BACK at her life....when she was 24 years of age living in Massachusetts)....At the start of the story she tells us in a week - she will run away....
Plus we know Eileen has a menial secretary type job at a boys correctional residence.

AT AGE 24:
.....she slept on a cot in the attic,
.....she had no need for friends
.....took laxatives often, tells us about emptying her bowels, (obsessive with her laxative addiction).
....she smelled, ( hated to shower, loved the filth on her body)
....her father, a retired police officer, often told her she smelled like hell ... a vile man anyway!
....she felt like killing her father, but didn't want him to die, ( yet he was always degraded her).
....she drank beer with her dad, ate peanuts....she wasn't friendly with her father but they did talk sometimes...( she lived in his house- it was just the two of them)!
.....Her father owned a gun which Eileen talks about - and I wondered about.
.....Eileen would hide her father's shoes - so he couldn't leave the house to walk to the liquor store.
.....Her father didn't like Eileen at all - had more loyalty toward his bottle of gin than her.
.....as a child, she was plump, and ugly.
.....at 24 she was 100 pounds with many clothes on...a body of bones. Her hip bones stuck out so much it hurt when she bumped into tables and things.
.....she tells us about her sexual fantasies- her repressed sexuality-her masturbation - but she is a virgin at 24.....and her bitterness for never having love in her life.
.....we learn Eileen had a date to her Senior Prom - likes the color navy blue- wore a navy blue dress - but her date wasn't the 'star' love in her story. She fancied another guy obsessively.... almost stalking him.
.....she hated church but went with her father on Sundays.
.....she had an older sister, more pretty, she had moved away. They didn't talk.
.....Eileen spent time in the cold basement of the house - like her mother often did before she died - wondered what her mother did there. Her mother was mean too. ....
.....Eileen cried much more when her dog died than when her mother died.
.....she pretended to believe in god. She spent years of going to bible school as a child.
.....Eileen was shy, didn't like happy people....or pretty people. She was lonely and angry, felt abandoned by her dad and the world. She was negative about everyone and everything. She pitied herself and didn't care about others. Eileen was darker than dark.
"Why should I ache for anyone else? My pain was the only one that ached"

Most of the story....I was 'neutral-of-judgement' to this odd young women

I kept listening to the audiobook intently to Eileen talk on and on HOLDING MY INTEREST. THE NARRATOR GETS THE HIGHEST RATING FROM ME: TRULY OUTSTANDING ---
I began to wonder....."HOW WILL THIS STORY END"? "How will I feel"? I was getting more and more curious towards the end...with NO CLUE how Ottessa Moshfegh would bring "Eileen" to a final close.

I didn't 'feel' repulsed reading about Eileen's childhood. Seems I was able to 'hear' it - from a distance without my own well being being disturbed.
I was simply present. I was very interested to know how this story would end. I admit towards the end, my compassion deepen for Eileen as the wounded child she was. Tears ran down my cheeks at the later-LATER end.....from exhaustion? Or just completely over-whelmed -blown away by this story?/!!!

I thought of this quote:
"If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself,
what am I? And if not now, when? ---Hillel

I thought this was a phenomenal engaging audiobook- a brilliant character study -
......the narrative has energy and vision. A tragic story.....but utterly engrossing
to the final end.

**SORRY AGAIN... I'm failing with the 3 sentences! I may still work on it... I just thought this book was exceptional & unique!!! ( clearly not for everyone). I am, however, saving tons of time not reading many 'arc' books. I'm in heaven this year - much happier -reading 'what' I want - 'when' I want! - Not following a due-date list.
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews2,993 followers
December 6, 2021
'Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse... because it was dead and in Eileen's glove compartment.

If you've read anything by Moshfegh, you know her books are a bit odd. Her characters are unapologetic in their bleak, raw honesty and weirdness, but you feel for them because their circumstances are dismal and soul-crushing.

In this debut novel (shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize), readers follow along as an elderly Eileen reflects back on a pivotal week in her life when she was 24, living in "X-ville" (small town New England), and working as a secretary in a boys' prison. She lives with her alcoholic extremely emotionally abusive father after her (also abusive) mother passed away from a violent illness. We know from the start that an event will occur at the end of the week (on Christmas Eve), which will cause her to leave this life behind.

With that sort of story structure, there's a lot of pressure on said event to pay off. In my eyes, I don't think it does. Still, Eileen is such a memorable character that I don't begrudge the journey to get there. And Moshfegh's style is so unique that I applaud her strong voice and writing style. I'll always be intrigued by what she puts forth in the future.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Violeta.
79 reviews78 followers
May 9, 2022
This is fearless writing! A fine example of what a writer can do, thematically and structurally, if talented and bold enough to go beyond norms.

I came to this book on the recommendation of my friend Robin, having no idea what it was about. I reached the last page still not knowing which way the story would go at any given moment. It was suspenseful and risky on Ottessa Moshfegh’s part. She pulled through the disturbing, charged angles of the story, tying it all up in the end in a finale that shone a cathartic light upon the whole sordid affair.

I wouldn’t want to spoil it by giving away any plot details; I’ll only say that the gist here is the extremes people go to for a few shreds of approval and affection. And how the lack of those two may end up being not so bad after all, if it motivates them to get away from whatever and whoever keeps degrading them. If they find the courage to reinvent and give themselves a whole new life.
Moshfegh’s narrative is walking on thin ice but never loses its balance. She’s in control of her material from beginning to end. An accomplished successor to Patricia Highsmith’s darkness, made more morbid and explicit, since our time and age allows, even calls for it. A read that unabashedly delights in the grotesque of our less than noble human nature.

For a more detailed analysis read Robin’s terrific review.
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
628 reviews383 followers
March 5, 2020
Does a book need to be inoffensive in order for you to enjoy it?

It may seem an academic question at heart, but it's exactly the question you'll need to ask yourself before reading Ottessa Moshfegh's polarizing Eileen. If you like your narratives clean, or you want your lead to have unambiguous morality, or you demand a likeable character, then Eileen is unlikely the book for you. Of course, if you are letting those things hold you back then you'll miss a swath of excellent literature of which Eileen is just a single example.

That's not to say that it is wrong to not want to read books that challenge, disgust, or shock. Indeed, I understand those readers who want stories that eschew the smothering complexity of real life in favour of books who have clear heroes and villains and happy endings. I, too, have a lot of fun with those types of books, but it is a book like Eileen that really gets at what I love about reading.

From the opening pages, Moshfegh introduces a unique and magnetic narrator in the form of Eileen. I've decided not to discuss the actual plot of the book in this review simply because discovering what this book is about through Eileen's narration is half the scrappy beauty of this novel. The writing is almost conversational, though undoubtedly literary.

The conceit of Eileen is that Eileen herself is narrating her tumultuous twenties in unfortunate circumstances as an elderly woman reflecting upon her life. She'll pause in the middle of a scene to offer an explanation for her behaviour, or to offer context. In this way, Moshfegh is able to convey a lot of information in a way that feels consistently interesting and never reads like an unnecessary info-dump.

I've read a lot of reviews that seemed to harp on the same two points: Eileen herself is unlikeable, and the book is far too concerned with bodily functions. To each of these comments I offer an alternative interpretation. Eileen is not someone who behaves in a way that is always understandable. She does immoral things, she's self-pittying, she pines for lives without ever taking the action to bring her towards those possible futures. I agree that she is complex, but I think it is unfair to call her outright unlikeable. These early passages also lead the way for character evolution later in the novel.

For the icky bits, I felt they worked well in the context of the novel, but may not have worked for another book. I thought of it as coming to know the entirety of someone, even the filthy, embarrassing bits, and still seeing their value. One of the things I really enjoyed was how funny the book could be. Moshfegh inserts a lot of witty bits in there that make the book a lot of fun to read, though I've read few reviews that highlight that humour.

When the 2016 Man Booker Prize shortlist came out, Eileen was the book I was least interested in and the negative reviews reaffirmed my choice to avoid it. But when I found a rather pristine copy for $2 at a local book sale, I decided to throw caution to the wind and give Eileen a try. Though it sat on my shelves for months, I'm glad I decided to pick it up. This book hooked me and I was consistently excited to get back to it throughout the day. I can't recommend this book to everyone, especially since so many people seem to hate it. But I do think that you should give it a whirl in spite of the bad reviews. Who knows? It might tickle your fancy.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,133 reviews8,133 followers
December 28, 2017
Updated Review: December 23-27, 2017
I can't believe I didn't like this the first time I read it. Although I do remember enjoying the writing style but not being that impressed with the actual storyline—and I still stand by that opinion: the story isn't the most impressive part of this book. But I think Eileen is one of the most fascinating, confusing, and well constructed characters I've ever read about. It definitely helped to read her short story collection to get an even better idea of Moshfegh's style and literary ambitions before returning to this because it gave me a much greater appreciation for it. I really can't wait to see what she writes next!

Original Review: July 28-30, 2016
I guess that is how those sick people get by. They look like nobodies, but behind closed doors they turn into monsters.

This is the story of Eileen. Or really it's Eileen's story; it's a story Eileen tells us, a story we are led to believe. But it's not always clear how much is believable, or how trustworthy Eileen really is.

Eileen is a loner. She lives with her alcoholic, abusive father. She works at the local boys' prison. She stalks a security guard, Randy, because she's infatuated with him. That is until Rebecca Saint John shows up and Eileen moves on from a girlhood crush to full-fledge admiration. As her obsession and insecurities wind themselves together, Eileen loses control of her own story.

Otessa Moshfegh doesn't hold back. This is one of the grittiest and harshest books I've read. Eileen is a fascinating character. She's detestable, and yet you can't help but strangely sympathize with her. She doesn't take care of herself--she drinks as much as her father, eats poorly and barely bathes--but still she's completely obsessed with appearances. It's this amazing contradiction that balances well with the book's few settings: Eileen's filthy home; the prison where she works; and X-ville's one local bar (Eileen masks real locations and names with invented ones, since it is her story after all). I felt filthy just reading this book, and I applaud Moshfegh for creating such a visceral reaction in me.

All that being said, I think this would've been a lot better as a novella or short story. Many of the plot points are barely fleshed out enough to propel the story forward, and the final course of action that is hinted at in the book's blurb is so late in the story that you don't get enough time to settle into its consequences before the story is over. Either Moshfegh needed to shorten the whole thing, or make it longer with flashbacks or parallel storylines to create a depth to the story that I felt it lacked.

2 stars on Goodreads is "it was ok," and it totally was. I found it to be an entertaining read, one that was truly unlike anything I've read--Eileen's character especially--and I'm interested to see what Moshfegh does next. But overall not a book I'm going to be raving about and won't read again.
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews48.1k followers
April 27, 2021
This is a very short book, and yet it took me 4 days to read it.

I'm the level of book nerd where I try to finish a book per day every day that I can. It's the first item on every to-do list I've ever made. It is the biggest factor in my priorities being as screwed up and weird as they are.

And yet this teeny tiny book took me down.

This is due to the fact that it made me so viscerally uncomfortable I had to read it in approximately 42 separate sittings. I spent several days chugging glasses of water so I could grab a new one, suddenly being overcome by the urge to make cookies, reading different books - and so on and so forth. Just so I could get up and get away from this book.

That's pretty cool, in a lot of ways. It's what Ottessa Moshfegh is known for, certainly.

But it didn't make up for how unpleasant of a reading experience it was. No aspect of this was enough to make up for how much I disliked reading it.

Bottom line: It's no My Year of Rest and Relaxation - that's for sure.


"I wasn't radical at all. I was simply unhappy."

this book made me uncomfortable in about 16 different ways.

review to come / 3? stars

currently-reading updates

binge reading the works of ottessa moshfegh as a cry for help
Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
488 reviews596 followers
September 25, 2016
If you enjoy reading extensive accounts of bowel movements from characters that love to wallow in self-pity, then this so-called "literary thriller" is the book for you. I'm afraid I didn't care for it very much.

The narrator is looking back on a seminal week in her life as a 24-year-old. Growing up in a drab New England town she dubs X-ville, Eileen leads a miserable existence. She lives in a filthy house with her alcoholic father, who insults her at every opportunity. She has major body issues. Her work at the local boys' correctional facility is unfulfilling. But when the luminous Rebecca starts a new job at the prison and takes an immediate shine to Eileen, her humdrum life starts to change in unexpected ways.

I've seen a few reviews complain about how unlikable the protagonist is but I have no major issue with this aspect. I actually found her quite fascinating to begin with. The chief problem is that the writing is so repetitive. Eileen hates her body, hates her father, hates her job, hates her life and whines about it on every single page. Attempts at foreshadowing are heavy-handed - if Eileen mentioned those dangerous icicles above her front door one more time, I was ready to fling the book at the wall. Moshfegh includes some rather frank passages which are clearly designed to shock (such as the aforementioned toilet escapades) but the frequency of this tactic become rather tiresome. It is also a thriller without suspense. Nothing really happens until the final quarter of the story and the events that subsequently unfold seemed quite implausible to me. I am baffled by its selection on the Booker shortlist though it seems to have been generally well-received, especially in the US. But it's a thumbs down from me.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,444 reviews7,531 followers
November 29, 2016
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

When I saw David Sedaris had recommended Eileen as a must read - well . . . .

♪♫♫♪I came in to the library like a wreeeeecccckkkkkkiiiiiinnnnnng ball. ♪♫♫♪

Now that I’m finished? I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and simply read the synopsis because it TELLS. THE. ENTIRE.STINKING. STORY. Not even kidding. The only thing you’ll gain by reading the whole book rather than only the blurb are all of the up-close-and-personal descriptions of various odoriferous atrocities that, trust me, you will be able to smell alllllllll the way through the pages . . . . .

Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle and tell me I read this wrong because this is one of those extremely rare occasions where I’m nearly certain I did not. You see, this should have been my idea of a great time. The unreliable narrator is my favorite narrator of all, the mere mention of this story taking a “Hitchcockian twist” had me squeeing like a schoolgirl, and boy do I prefer the dark and stormy over the sunshine and unicorn fart. Eileen is a book that will draw polarized ratings/review and it all boils down to how the writing strikes you. Sadly the writing struck me as pretty much “meh.”

Not only was I not drawn in by the wordsmithing, but there was also the problem I had with Eileen herself. I realize she was a sad soul who had created (or felt force to create) this unsexed, frumpy, almost revolting persona in order to protect herself from hinted about harsh realities of her life, and I’m not so inhuman I couldn’t pity her – but I also didn’t really give a rip about her story.

No one is more disappointed than I am that Eileen was a fail for me. Not only do I now have to tackle the issue of both of our long-term relationships AND the teensie little fact that David is not sexually attracted to women before I can be with my soulmate, but now we don’t even like the same books . . . . .


Because David Sedaris said to.
Profile Image for N.
22 reviews129 followers
December 17, 2021
They call Moshfegh's protagonists "unlikeable" and I have a real problem with that. What they are is honest, brutally, and clearly in a socially unacceptable way. Well, I loved Eileen Dunlop. Both Eileens, the 74 years old narrator Eileen and the 24 years version who the story is about.

The story old Eileen tells us starts in 1964 when she was a mentally and sexually abused 24 year old motherless, very damaged young woman and although there is a plot, the book mostly requires you to be comfortable living in Eileen's mind for 260 pages. No easy feat and it's not for everyone. Every dark, disgusting, embarrassing thought you ever tried to actively suppress, Eileen won't. She is the worst version of you, of anyone. She is refreshing, to tell you the truth.

This book is not as good as My Year of Rest and Relaxation, but comes very close.

"Truth be told, I was a glutton for punishment. I didn't really mind getting bossed around by my father. I'd get angry, and I loathed him, yes, but my fury gave my life a kind of purpose, and running his errands killed time. That is what I imagined life to be - one long sentence of waiting out the clock."

"Imagining his parents beating him as a child is the only path to forgiveness that I have found so far. It isn't perfect, but it does the trick."

"Looking at my reflection really did soothe me, though I hated my face with a passion. Such is the life of the self-obsessed."

"One day I'd be gone, I hoped, never to have to look at her or think of her again, so I tried to hate her with all my might, squeeze our encounters for every last drop of disgust she could ever inspire in me."

"I had no compassion for anyone unless his suffering allowed me to indulge in my own."

"I was a fool about men in general. I learned the long way about love, tried every house on the block before I got it right. Now, finally, I live alone. "

I will spare you my personal favourite paragraph, I believe it is suitable for hardcore fans of Moshfegh only, but if you own a copy, it's on page 44.
Profile Image for Pedro.
191 reviews401 followers
February 1, 2019
Dear Eileen,

I wanted you to know that I didn’t fall in love with Eleanor Oliphant as half of the world did. I didn’t believe her story. I didn’t believe her damn tropical plant in the corner of her living room! I just didn’t.

But you, Eileen, I felt you were so real, so human and your story really blew my mind. What a thought provoking story you had to tell. I didn’t think you were weird, I just thought you were very clever by trusting me to be clever as well. Thank you, Eileen. For everything. For not giving everything away, for making me think and for challenge me. Not everyone can do that to me.

Not even for a second did I know where your story was going to take me (Well, I knew but not in the way it did). I was gripped and totally mesmerised by your words, by your life and especially because I started to really care about you. I really did.

Don’t worry about the people that didn’t enjoy your story, just remember your own words when you said that some people would do everything they could to avoid the terrifying reality of things.

Quick confession time now, Eileen: I lived and ran away from X-ville as well. We could’ve met back there, we could’ve been best friends, you and I Eileen.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Your newest friend,

P.S. I will never tell anyone what you kept in the glove compartment of your car, Trust me. All your secrets are safe with me.
Profile Image for LA Cantrell.
424 reviews544 followers
May 17, 2018
ON SALE FOR $1.99 THIS WEEK! May 17, 2018...if you can prepare yourself for some disgusting self-care and a bizarre protagonist, the story will wow my fellow oddballs. If you prefer commercial fiction, then stick to Lee Child and Jodi Picoult... Ottessa is not your writer.
Apparently, Im a total softie for a sociopathic narrator. When the person whispering in my ear is pathologically self-absorbed, that lovely and hideous freak usually has me wrapped around his little finger. Or her finger, in this case.

Eileen is weird. She is not keen on bathing, lives off a handful of peanuts, and once a week takes massive doses of laxatives to purge. She lives at home with her pop who never much loved her but does appreciate the bottles of gin she runs out to get him.

But as she narrates the story 50 years later under an assumed name, we wonder what it was that finally gave her the guts to run off from her unnamed city - Xville, she calls it. We assume, of course, that some sort of crime has taken place, and even in her 70s, Eileen is guarding her actions.

"I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus, reading some clothbound book from the library about plants or geography, perhaps wearing a net over my light brown hair. You might take me for a nursing student or a typist, note the nervous hands, a foot tapping, bitten lip. I looked like nothing special.""

""I kept in the glove box of the Dodge a dead field mouse I’d found one day on the porch frozen in a tight ball. I’d picked it up by its tail and swirled it through the air for a moment, then slung it in the glove box with a broken flashlight, a map of New England freeways, a few green nickels."

""...honestly, even in those darkest moments, the idea of anyone examining my naked corpse was enough to keep me alive. I was that ashamed of my body. It also concerned me that my demise would have no great impact, that I could blow my head off and people would say, “That’s all right. Let’s get something to eat.”"

"I remember a man I met in my thirties who bent my ear one night babbling about his happy childhood—presents under the tree, cocoa, puppies, chestnuts roasting on an open fire. There’s nothing I detest more than men with happy childhoods.""

The first three quarters of this book were a delicious slow burn for me. The dark and bizarre life Eileen leads in her secretarial Job at a juvenile boys detention center takes a new turn, and finally - pop! A surprise.

Up until the last several pages of this book, I would have given it a five star rating. Look - I love horrible narrators like Dr. Marc and Joe Lon and that chick from the Girl on the Train book. They are far more interesting than any goody two shoes character ever written. Even when the narrator is a good guy, I end up judging a book by the complexity of the villain in the story. The motivation behind the bad is a lot more difficult to write, I think, than somebody who grew up as part of the Brady Bunch.

So prepare to be repulsed and mesmerized. In a million years, I had no idea where this book or should I say Eileen was going. While the conclusion left me a bit wanting, this quick read is well worth the time. I could not put this down! Four point seven five stars

UPDATE: Booker short list!
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
556 reviews7,404 followers
May 3, 2022
2022 reread: still slaps!

Like The Sellout, I had been aware of Eileen (2015) for a while now. I’ve also been meaning to read it for equally as long. Once again, pushed by the Man Booker, I finally read it. Thank goodness.

Taking place over a week at Christmas in the late 1960s, Eileen tells the story of Eileen Dunlop, a woman in her early-twenties. She works at a correctional institute for young men where she stalks a security guard and spies on the inmates in solitary confinement. At home she sleeps in a cot in the attic where she pees into mason jars and indulges in laxative binges which make her bowel movements ‘torrential’ and ‘oceanic’. Her teeth are rotting from her penchant for sweets and doesn’t shower often because she enjoys stewing in her own filth. Needless to say, Eileen is a divisive narrator. Some have criticised this book for relying on shock value whilst others have praised Moshfegh for creating such a vile but enticing protagonist. My opinion is that Eileen is near a masterpiece.

Remember that scene in Trainspotting where Ewan McGregor is in the filthy toilet cubicle and proceeds in making his way into the toilet and swims around in the cistern bliss? That’s a lot like reading Eileen. You’re aware of the filth and the depravity but once you’re in there it’s actually quite beautiful. Eileen lives with her ex-cop, current-alcoholic father who she fears will kill himself eventually. At work all of her fellow employees mock and bully her for being so filthy. One cannot help but think of Eileen as an endearing character. Her life is tough, even if she brings a lot of it onto herself. You read this novel hoping thing will get better for her, hoping someone will come along and save her from herself. And someone does. From then on, Eileen wouldn’t seem out of place in Patricia Highsmith’s bibliography.

The book is written by the Eileen of right now, reminiscing about the winter that changed her life. It is an incredibly engrossing novel. Eileen is one of the most memorable characters I have read in recent years. The novel just radiates intrigue and has an ending straight out of the best Hitchcock. I will be shocked if Eileen isn’t my book of the year.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,509 followers
January 3, 2017
This is quite a brooding character study, very compelling in how it keeps on the cusp between disgust and empathy as you wait for a promised metamorphosis by the title character. You are taken into the mind of a 24-year old woman who is trapped in a sucky life. She tends to her despicable but ailing alcoholic father, a retired cop in rural coastal town in Massachusetts, while working as a sort of secretary in a correctional institute for boys. We come to learn she is surprisingly well adapted to this cocoon of a life. Sort of like the old Simon and Garfunkel song: “I am a rock, I am an island … I have no need of friendship. Friendship causes pain …”. But the story is told from a much later point in her life when she has attained an allegedly more enlightened outlook and humane mode of existence. We can’t help feeling a bit of dread over what ugly actions may be in the store to make that possible. Near the beginning of the tale we are told:
In a week, I would run away from home and never go back. This is the story of how I disappeared.

Eileen is cowed by her father, but still she gets something out of her ability to handle him. He is dangerous to himself and others when he goes out on a binge, so she deprives him of shoes and his car keys. Thus, she has some kind of agency in the situation. Aside from a sister who moved far afield, he is the only family Eileen has. The bond she has with him I don’t believe is that uncommon in our society. He may not physically attack her, but the verbal abuse has a pervasive stunting impact on her development:

He was very contemptuous of me, found me pathetic and unattractive and had no qualms about saying so. …So I loathed him, yes, but I was very dutiful.
…My father’s demands that I do his bidding like a maid, a servant, were constant. But I was not the kind of girl to say no to anyone.

The later Eileen, looking back, finds some empathy for her former self that most readers can join in on:
Although I was small and wiry then, I believed that I was fat, that my flesh was unwieldy. I could feel my breasts and thighs swinging sensuously to and fro as I walked down the hall. I thought everything about me was so huge and disgusting. I was crazy in that way.

She has no love life and is still a virgin. She has a hopeless crush on a guard at the correctional facility, and engages in obsessive fantasies about him, which begins to move toward stalking. But soon an elegant, charismatic woman from Harvard, Rebecca, arrives at the facility to do a practicum in counseling, and her special attention to Eileen begins to spin her head around. Though she is electrified by her seductive ways with her, she doesn’t really align with Rebecca’s professed compassion for the serious criminals at the facility as victims of abuse:

Why should my heart ache for anyone but myself? If anyone was trapped and suffering and abuse, it was me. I was the only one whose pain was real. Mine.

Rebecca instigates events that draw Eileen into a major change in her life. Crippled as Eileen is emotionally, she has some strengths that make her ready to take significant action. The words that the future Eileen applies to her state at this time can’t help but make us wary about her latent capabilities:

My eyes were small and green, and you wouldn’t—especially back then—have seen much kindness in them. …I looked like a shy and gentle soul from afar, and sometimes I wished I was one. …I looked so boring, lifeless, immune and unaffected, but in truth I was always furious, seething, my thoughts racing, my mind like a killer’s. It was easy to hide behind the dull face I wore, moping around. I really thought I had everyone fooled. And I didn’t read books about flowers or home economics. I liked books about awful things—murder, illness, death. …I often felt there was something wired weird in my brain, a problem so complicated only a lobotomy could solve it—I’d need a whole new mind or a whole new life.

The psychological suspense is this tale is well done. It has some of the same impact as the creeping horror in more explicitly gothic tales like du Maurier’s “Rebecca” or Shetterfield’s “The Thirteenth Tale.”

This book was provided by the publisher for review by the Netgalley program.
Profile Image for Tooter.
415 reviews165 followers
April 25, 2016
Solid 4.5 stars. This book is not for everyone. Nothing...and I mean absolutely nothing significant happens until about 85% into the story but I still loved it...especially the tongue-in-cheek tone throughout the book. I've never known a character to engage in more self-loathing than Eileen. Somehow Otessa Moshfegh manages to make this funny.
Profile Image for Julie.
553 reviews276 followers
September 25, 2016
Inauthentic and absurd.

The author is trying to convince me that Eileen-the-little-maltworm somehow springs into action in the last pages of the book. The premise is utterly unbelievable. It takes a whole different brand of sociopath than Eileen to accomplish such a task -- something with such definitive action and consequence. The author has no real grasp of her character's pathology so there is no way that she can paint a legitimate portrait. Even a cursory reading in Psych 101 would have taken her further into Eileen's mind, with a convincing voice. Strike one.

The author is trying to convince me that Eileen is now seventy-something. Rather, she sounds like she's barely out of her nappies for this is the strained voice of a thirty-something trying to mimic the language of an era of which she hasn't a complete grasp. The closest to authenticity that the author comes is in referring to Eileen's genitals as her "nether regions". We hear a lot about those regions, ad nauseam in fact. (The nausea rises at will every time those regions are mentioned.) So often are these regions mentioned that the book could authentically be entitled Eileen of The Nether Regions -- an entity quite different, I would think, than Eileen of The NetherLands. There is nothing that resembles, even remotely, the thinking and speaking of a seventy-something. Strike two.

Highly touted as noir in genre, I find it barely gris. Once again, mimicry and fraud seem to be the order of the day. Well, if I make it sound sort of like this, maybe I'll get a movie deal out of it which seems to be exactly what Moshfegh had in mind. See: (The Guardian, February 28, 2016.)

From another interview with The Guardian (September 16, 2016) Moshfegh is ... candid about Eileen being a deliberate exercise in playing with the format of commercial fiction to get the attention of a big publisher. McGlue and her early short stories might have won awards, but they didn’t pay much, and she “wanted to write a novel to start a career where I could live off publishing books. That was my prime motivation for writing Eileen. I thought, fine: I’ll play this game. And I still feel like I’m playing it.”

So, it seems she achieved her end game.

I don't have any issues with someone wanting to achieve commercial success -- but I do take exception to the fraud inherent in the book. I suppose I come from an ever-dwindling prehistoric animal that believes there is value in honest voices in literature. Otherwise, it's just an advertisement; otherwise it's just a gameshow -- and how dare these frauds pose as writers? Strike three.

All that being said, I'm sure it's bound to win the Booker, because once you get things rolling, as Faust knew very well, it's hard to stop the momentum, no matter how much you regret it.

Profile Image for Lena.
182 reviews73 followers
March 10, 2021
Depressing and disgusting. The main character (Eileen) is impossible to sympathize, even knowing her tragic past and neglecting father. Although the story has an interesting plot twist
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