A Review: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

eileenI picked up Eileen because I was in need of an exciting psychological thriller. And, while this book was not a total waste, it was not what I needed.

Eileen is a 24-year-old woman living a grungy, miserable life with her verbally abusive drunk of a father. She works in a prison for delinquent boys and has odd obsessions and habits, which adds to the haunting, demoralized vibe of the novel.

This is what I will say about Eileen: I really enjoyed the perspective. The story is told from Eileen’s point of view, as she is looking back on a specific period of her life. The narrator is, in present tense, an elderly woman looking back on her young self. The attitude of hindsight that Elderly Eileen provided combined with the maddeningly coy way she would comment on her hindsight added to the mystique and suspense of the novel.

This was also a very vivd read. There was no shortage of detail, and Moshfegh paints her sentences with curt, honest, and to the point imagery. Eileen does not mess around. She does not spare the reader her morbid or crude thoughts. She has an air of, “it is what it is”, while simultaneously despising herself. Again, that is the hindsight coming into play. Elderly Eileen is in a much more peaceful place than the Eileen of the story. Because of this, there is an oddly sterile calmness to the turmoil described in the story.

To say Eileen is wonderfully written is an understatement. It’s beautiful in its sharp expression. This novel was also, however, anticlimactic I felt.

Maybe it’s because I was looking for some serious, Lifetime Movie Network style drama when I chose this book, or maybe it’s because the spark to the flame doesn’t appear until more than halfway through the novel. It is easy to see how Eileen could be so easily lured into Rebecca’s web, how desperately Eileen craved affection and approval of any kind. But the plot was simply not what I was expecting. In the case of excitement, the aura of calm hindsight provided by the perspective of the story sabotaged the thrill and suspense of being directly and startlingly in the thick of the plot.

All in all, it was a quick and, from the angle of a writer, beautifully written and detailed read. Was it the thrilling mind game I was hoping for? Unfortunately not.

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