Eileen is the debutante novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, about the titular character Eileen, an outsider, a lonesome woman in the 1960’s living in a gloomy town in New England, a self-obsessed woman working as a secretary in a young boy’s juvenile correctional facility. The book follows Eileen a week before a looming life-altering incident through Eileen’s thoughts, her obsessions, behavior, her routine, and her relationship with her old alcoholic father, her fantasies regarding a handsome guard at work and towards the end, her obsession and friendship with the new and beautiful Rebecca, also from work.
Moshfegh’s writing is expressive, detailed and communicates her point perfectly while not being too overpowering. Her writing fades in contrast to the content, as the meaning of the words breathe life in the character of Eileen, and we see Eileen clearly, not the sentence craft. Eileen is a first person narrative by an older and changed Eileen, who sometimes quips in with the difference in her younger self as opposed to her current self. This mostly works, as it lifts up the reader from being over-whelmed by Eileen and her concentrated self-obsession, giving us an external view. The only unbelievable aspect of this is the quite unbelievable older Eileen’s vivid, exact, immersive and microscopic memory, but that didn’t bother me much because it served the purpose of the narrative.
Eileen shines for no more reason than being Eileen, in all bone, blood and thoughts. Eileen is so detailed and rich, a fully rounded human, filled with all the unlikable nasty bits. Quite empty of action, this book is made vivid with Eileen’s thoughts, very often morbid and disgusting.
While Eileen is the result of many unfortunate circumstances, she also manages to be a very basal human. She is insecure, lonely, seeks affection and validation. I saw myself in Eileen, in her insecurities, in my vulnerabilities, so much that she felt like a close friend.
The only let down of Eileen is its unsatisfactory end. Throughout the book, the reader is aware of the impending life changing situation to come. It’s irking and spikes interest as we’re taunted by older Eileen with stark contrasts. But there is no whatsoever indication of this event after till 3/4th of the book. And when it does surface, it’s in the snap of a sentence.
To me, the complete blind-sight of the impending crime was mind boggling and testing. And the incident itself, had me very engaged.
But alas, not so much for Eileen. What follows is very hurried and too less, but sticks to the essence of Eileen’s personality. You see Eileen’s massive self-absorbed nature and her eagerness for a very romantic escape from her life. So if the end is unsatisfactory and inconclusive, I believe that it was Moshfegh’s conscious doing.
Eileen is a book I would recommend to far few people. Eileen is rich with musings of the mind of a twisted, strange and repulsive woman most would not connect with. Yet Eileen is a work of brilliance and art. This book is a character study, as told in many other reviews, and I can affirm it is true. Eileen is a study of such a character that is so very human, honest and raw, troubling at times, but truly real.
I conclude: Read this book not for the crime, not for the end, not for a conclusion, but for the journey. Read this book to know the intricacies of Eileen’s mind and thoughts. Read this book to paint in your mind a strange, repulsive yet sympathetic and human portrait that perhaps you will find bits of yourself in.
Lots of love,