Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and chosen by David Sedaris as his recommended book for his Fall 2016 tour.
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen is one of the most fascinating literary characters we’ve encountered. A secretary at a young offenders’ institute in the '60s, she is herself imprisoned by her alcoholic father. You’d think she’d be a sympathetic figure, but Eileen contends she’s a “monster.” Her obsession with an effervescent stranger named Rebecca—and her involvement in a catastrophic crime—help build that case. A 2016 Man Booker Prize finalist, Eileen is a wildly seductive, wickedly sinister book.
Winner of both the Paris Review's Plimpton Prize and a Stegner Fellowship, Moshfegh moves beyond her previous short fiction achievements with this dark and unnerving debut novel. In 1964, Eileen Dunlop is 24 years old, living with her cruel, alcoholic father, and working at Moorehead, a juvenile detention center for boys. She also spends a lot of time hating herself ("I looked like nothing special") and plotting her exodus from the small New England town where she's been trapped. Eileen's perspective is one of hindsight, some 50 years later, looking back on her final days of quiet, isolated misery before the rest of her life begins, a very different life we know will happen without knowing much more. The book's opening evokes a stark kind of empathy for Eileen, who is extreme in her oddness and aversion to personal hygiene, but still quite likable. Unfortunately, some 100 pages in, she is still announcing her imminent departure. As the claustrophobia and filth of her circumstances become more suffocating over the course of the novel, they seem more redundant than effective. With the arrival of the mysterious Rebecca, an alleged education specialist at Moorehead, Eileen's momentum (and the narrative's) finally picks up somewhat, although it will still feel stagnant to some readers.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Hyperbolically bleak, written in a style/voice that continually announces an action to come and then veers off on a tangent, frustrating this reader. A substantial way through the book, I was thinking how refreshing not to have read about violence or murder only to be disappointed a few pages later. The ending seemed weak.
I’ve made it through half and I give up. I don’t care about this character and I feel like it will never end. For such a short book, this is truly tedious.
Book Review: Eileen
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: August 16, 2016
Review Date: August 8, 2018
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
My apologies to NetGalley, the publisher and author that this review is two years late. All I can say is that I was struggling with illness two years ago and now am making a great effort in keeping my reviews timely and up to date.
Whew! The hits keep on coming. Though there is a caveat: this is a book that was dark from the start, and then towards the end it took a turn towards a much greater darkness. If a light and fluffy summer beach read is what you’re looking for, this is not the book for you.
This book is a character study of Eileen, a 24-year daughter of a deceased mother, and a father she still lives with, who is a retired cop and is now a completely dysfunctional and fairly crazy drunk.
Eileen works at a home (prison) for adolescent boys charged with crimes from theft on up to murder.
She is a completely emotionally shut down young woman, who is herself dysfunctional emotionally as her father. She is cruel and hard-hearted to the core, desperate for love, attention and affection.
The author has written an extraordinary character study. The writing is spare, with short sentences that are easy to read. Kind of like eating something that is poison: it tastes good, then corrodes your insides.
Toward the very end of the book, the plot takes a turn towards greater and unexpected (to me) darkness. I don’t want to give any plot spoilers away here.
This is first class writing. Character development, plot structure and even sentence structure are masterly.
I can’t wait to read more by Ottessa Moshfegh. She is definitely one of the shining lights on the American literature scene. 5 Star+, highly, highly recommended.
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