5 July 2022

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

My experience reading Ottessa Moshfegh is unique in that I have never had higher hopes picking up the rest of an author's work. My first time reading her work was My Year of Rest and Relaxation which I absolutely loved and picked for my top read of the year. I immediately ordered her two other novels: Death in Her Hands (reviewed in full here) and Eileen. I felt let down by both but am so committed to Rest and Relaxation that I keep googling Moshfegh looking for her next release date.

Like her other books, Eileen is not very long, so even when I felt I was slogging through it, it didn't take long to complete. This book is far from bad, but I am having a really difficult time tempering my expectations. 

The main character of Moshfegh's first book is Eileen - a young, slightly disturbed woman living an hour or so away from Boston. Eileen is gross and awful, and she works at a nearby prison. She lives a terrible life with her drunk and verbally abusive father. Her mother and sister are long gone so she runs the house. She spends her downtime stalking and fantasizing about one of the local prison guards, until a new female counsellor named Rebecca starts working at the prison.

Memories, ghosts, dread can be like that, in my experience - they can come and go at their own convenience."

Eileen becomes obsessed with Rebecca and the two eventually start hanging out and gossiping about one of the jailed young men. Rebecca becomes increasingly interested in the boy's case and eventually loops Eileen in to help her. I don't want to give away too many details, but eventually their actions take a dark turn.

My friend Michael and I talked a little bit about Moshfegh's work and he said he'd heard Eileen compared to something the Coen Brother's might make a movie about. I thought this was a really apt comparison because all of her work feels a bit off and the characters are all very memorable. 

What I love about Moshfegh's writing - even when I don't enjoy the book itself - is how mean her writing can be. She is never concerned with character likability and I hated Eileen even though I knew I should pity her. 

A silly truism comes back to me, 'If you loved me, you'd be blind to my flaws.' I've tried that line on many men in my life, and the response usually has been, 'Then I guess I don't love you.' Makes me laugh each time I remember it."  

I would recommend anyone read My Year of Rest and Relaxation a hundred times over, but would be honest about my feelings about Eileen and Death in Her Hands. Here's hoping Lapvona (coming June 2022) will work out for me!

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