Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
The Last Word Review
The first thing that hits the reader as they settle into the debut novel Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh is just what an angry and dark novel this is. With Moshfegh being the first person narrator of Eileen much later in life and looking back on her younger life and the sheer lack of ideals and beliefs. The year is 1964 and we enter the life of Eileen who is sharing what can only be described as a disgusting excuse for a home with her alcoholic ex-police office father and that her relationship with him borders nothing short on murder bottle after bottle of gin is obtained to keep her father in the drunken stupor and life that he only now knows.
I will not hold back here Eileen is a deeply disturbing read and at times leaves you feeling down, but there is a real fascination with Eileen who seems to be on a complete ‘downer’ all hours of the day.
There are times in the first part of the book that Eileen talks of shovelling laxatives down her throat “empty and spent” or just plainly not disguising the fact she just hates her own body. Eileen is only living for herself and seems absorbed in having a relationship with her own body and how she uses her finger as well as flicking through pages of old porn magazines. These are difficult moments for the reader and I was not sure if there was sympathy or just disgust or a mix of both.
By day Eileen works in an office at a correctional facility for male offenders and seems to have a daily crush on some of the guards who work there and then one day Eileen’s life changes when in walks the glamorous red-haired Rebecca who carries herself in a manner that only Eileen can see and is attracted to and becomes intoxicated with the story now moving into the next stage.
The story is carried along on a steady pace but the mood of the story is one of a dark psychological narration and just reading each piece of gut wrenching self-pity or how she reveals a new low like stalking one of the correctional facility guards or the continuing fascination with her father’s gun. Is this leading us somewhere is something I kept asking myself as I became more and more entranced in Eileen, you can’t help yourself. There are little moments of humour but this is more disguised wit.
Eileen’s relationship is developing into one worryingly dark bond and with Eileen now totally under the beautiful Rebecca’s spell. Rebecca has plans to seek justice for an injustice and Eileen falls into line, this is now no longer just a friendship this story has an explosive ending and is worth persevering with as it rewards the reader.
For a debut novel this is a brave storyline with a character in Eileen that is so twisted and narration that is raw that some may be put off reading before the end. But Eileen Dunlop is fractured character and then Rebecca of who I wanted to learn more about but never did.
At the very start of the book she states “This is story of how I disappeared” Then the story begins as the now Eileen in 70’s narrates the younger life that was hers. Was this story of Eileen set out to shock the reader is up for debate and one down personal feelings.
This is no Summer Sunday afternoon read in the park but one book that I loved and one I won’t forget in a hurry.
Now I am looking forward to seeing what Ottessa Moshfegh has in-store for us next.
Eileen written by Ottessa Moshfegh and published by Jonathan Cape and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.