Anyone who’s picked up Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen because they’ve heard that it’s ‘the next Gone Girl‘ should chill. It’s not Gone Girl. In fact, it’s nothing like Gone Girl. I imagine that the reference was made because both books have a female character that is not very nice. The similarities end there.
Eileen is a character study, written in the first person. The reader is quickly exposed to Eileen’s dark, repulsive and disconcerting thoughts.
Although very little happens for the first three-quarters of the book, Moshfegh manages to create exquisite tension – you know that Eileen will become unhinged and she doesn’t disappoint. When glamorous Rebecca Saint John arrives at Eileen’s workplace (Eileen is a secretary at a juvenile correctional facility for boys), Eileen is infatuated and unable to resist anything Rebecca asks of her.
Moshfegh has created a remarkable character in Eileen. Her bitterness, resentment, and her self-obsessed monologue doesn’t waver for an instant. She’s judgmental, seething, and filthy, and I couldn’t tear my eyes from the page.
It’s a story about control and Moshfegh uses every available element to explore the theme – from Eileen’s workplace (the jail) and her toxic but dependent relationship with her alcoholic father, to her lewd fantasies about co-worker, Randy, her preoccupation with her body and the fact that she drinks excessively – every detail contributes to the theme.
“Here was the crux of my dilemma: I felt like killing my father, but I didn’t want him to die. I think he understood.”
Eileen’s self-obsession is spectacular. She loathes her body and her bodily functions, yet at the same time derives weird pleasure from them – she doesn’t wash her hands after using the toilet; she chews caramels and spits them back into the wrappers; she swills Vermouth to cover bad breath; she has a laxative habit and relishes her weekly ‘release’; and she doesn’t like showering –
“I like to stew in my own filth sometimes. Like a little secret under my clothes.”
Her resentment and her self-loathing is captured perfectly in this –
“I rarely smiled genuinely enough to forget to hold my lip down over my teeth. I think I’ve mentioned how my upper lip had a tendency to pull up my gums. Nothing came easily to me. Nothing.”
There are whispers that Eileen will make the Baileys Prize longlist next week – it would certainly be worthy, because although this book presents as suspense and reads as a true page-turner, the writing is outstanding –
“Her lipstick was a cheap and insincere fuchsia.”
“You can always tell something when a woman is overdressed – either she’s an outsider, or she’s insane.”
“…she had no shame. I wondered what sort of ecstasy there was to be had without shame to incite it.”
4/5 Unsettling, repulsive (and I mean that in the best possible way).
I received my copy of Eileen from the publisher, Random House UK, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
The book is all about gin (no wonder I loved it!). Eileen and her father swig it straight from the bottle but I’m selecting this Elderflower Spanish Gin & Tonic – it’s on my list of things to do.