Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut novel, Eileen (August 2015), is best described as a dark, seductive page-turner that takes ahold of you and doesn’t let go. It’s like a novel-length Flannery of Connor or Shirley Jackson short story–complete with humor and unexpected twists.
This is Eileen’s story, as narrated by her. An elderly woman now, she tells the story of her life growing up outside Boston in a city she calls “X-ville.” Her mother died when she was young. Her father was on the police force but is (and always has been) a useless drunk. Her older sister Joanie left home at seventeen to be with her boyfriend. Eileen did not have an easy beginning. Although there is much to tell about her sad, depressive life, it is the year she was twenty-four that takes center stage in this tale of obsession, seduction, and crime.
Working as a secretary at a prison for boys, a job supposedly secured by the fact that her father was on the police force, it is an understatement to say Eileen is a troubled girl with a hopeless future. Among many things, she is a stalker and shoplifter. Obsessed with one of the guards, she has lurid and perverse fantasies about him. That is until a newly hired director of education named Rebecca Saint John enters the picture. This beautiful woman befriends Eileen and she becomes completely infatuated with her. Eileen carefully recounts all the details leading up to something that happened in the days surrounding Christmas 1964. What was the event that forever changed the course of her life?
Moshfegh’s writing is so good you can’t help but read more, despite the deplorable characters. The author’s carefully crafted sentences transported me to Eileen’s world–the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. Although this is a very dark story, there are humorous moments that break it up. Overall, despite its mere 272 pages, this short novel felt much longer than its page count.
I highly recommend Eileen, especially to those who enjoy dark, psychological reads. I look forward to following Moshfegh and reading her next release.
Reviewed by Libby Bridges
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