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Book Review: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen is an oddball novel about a young woman in small-town America. Narrated in the first person, Eileen reminisces about a pre-Christmas week in her life in 1964 when she was aged twenty-four.

She describes a woman who is full of self-loathing; in her own words she is “ugly, disgusting, unfit for the world." Indeed a character who doesn't endear herself to the reader at all, but as she confides every innermost thought she does, she, in her own way, become fascinating.

We are given every bit of minutia about Eileen’s life from her innermost fantasies such as losing her virginity by being raped by the “most soulful, gentle, handsome of men who was secretly in love” with her, to her macabre habit of keeping a dead mouse in the glove box of her car to watch its “invisible decomposition”. 

The boredom of living in a small town, tending to her verbally-abusive drunken father and working a dead-end job as an assistant at a young offenders’ prison seeps from every page, enough almost to lull you to sleep if it wasn't for Eileen’s volcanic anger that she keeps in check with what she aptly describes as her “death mask”.

The catalyst to her escape comes in the form of Rebecca, a beautiful, Harvard-educated, impeccably dressed young woman who comes to work as a psychologist at the prison. Rebecca is the first person to actually notice Eileen, treating her as an equal and as a co-conspirator. In Eileen’s eyes, Rebecca heralds the dawn of a new age for women, and represents everything Eileen wants to become: financially independent, single, and sexually alluring but confident to rebuff advances. A woman unlike any other whom Eileen has ever known.

Although Eileen is billed as a thriller, I read it as more of kitchen-sink drama as Moshfegh portrays an ordinary girl whose impotent anger is directed at herself and her working class background.

Written by Rachel Boser

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