Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Taking a Break from Holiday Novels: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

When someone hands you a book and asks you to read it so they can discuss it, you read the book so you can discuss it. This was a novel that had me at turns disturbed, disgusted, intrigued, and reluctantly cheering Eileen on towards a better life. 

Taking place in 1964, and told from a much older Eileen's lens, this is one weird ride. Even when I was completely grossed out, I kept reading--the writing is just that good. Tiny little details that keep you compulsively turning the pages. Are you intrigued yet?

Eileen is twenty-four, and living at home with her alcoholic father. The home is completely filthy; neither has cleaned the house since Eileen's mother died years before. Her father is such an alcoholic that he sits in front of the open oven for warmth, drinking bottles of gin all day, every day. He's a retired cop who still has some odd kind of respect from the hometown police force--a polite, turn your head away respect. He's gotten into so much trouble in his drunken wanderings that Eileen now keeps all his shoes locked in the trunk of her car so he can't leave the house. Eileen herself is a piece of work. A young woman who is so disgusted with her physical appearance, her life, and pretty much everything; she's such a wreck that it's a bit of a shock. She sleeps in an unheated attic on a fold out cot, and wears her dead mother's too big clothes to her job as an office worker in a boy's prison. Personal hygiene is out the window. As she says, she likes to "stew in her own filth." Ew. 

Christmas is just around the corner, and we know that Eileen's life is going to radically change on Christmas Eve. We know this because older, wiser Eileen keeps telling us, so the build up to what will happen starts pretty early in the novel. You are at times repulsed by Eileen, and equally intrigued, and see glimpses of who she could have been, if only her upbringing had been a little different; if only her parents had cared about their child. This is a study of a person profoundly damaged by their negligent parents--and for that, you can't help but hope Eileen finds a way out. 

You may wonder why the heck anyone would want to read this novel. I've got to say, it will grab you and you won't be able to put it down. Once you get past Eileen's very strong defenses, and start to see more of who she is, you become invested in her escape from her terrible, empty life. You see glimpses of an Eileen that is witty, sharp, and so desperately wants someone to love her. 

Read it. It's quite the change from my reads so far this month, but a good one. I recommend it as a great way to bust out of your routine book type--take a chance and read something really different. 

Rating:  4/6 for a fascinating novel about a young woman who aches to break out of her life and make something of herself, but had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get there. Brilliant writing. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.


  1. Whoa, this really does sound like something different. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  2. I've had this novel on my reading wishlist for quite a while, but wasn't all that sure what it was about. Someone mentioned that it was really good, which is how I ended up adding this novel to my reading wishlist.

    I liked reading your review of Eileen, but parts of it sound gross, like the lack of hygiene part! I'm not so sure I want to read this novel now.