Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Eileen: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016 by Ottessa Moshfegh. A Marmite kind of novel #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

Today I bring you a review of a novel that’s quite a puzzle. It’s definitely not for everybody but I don’t think many people will read it and feel indifferent about it. I am hoping to read the ARC of the next novel of the author soon, so as you’ll guess, I’m more than a bit intrigued.

Book Review of Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh




Fully lives up to the hype. A taut psychological thriller, rippled with comedy as black as a raven’s wing, Eileen is effortlessly stylish and compelling. – Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Times 

The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop. Trapped between caring for her alcoholic father and her job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, she tempers her dreary days with dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, her nights and weekends are filled with shoplifting and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes.

When the beautiful, charismatic Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counsellor at the prison, Eileen is enchanted, unable to resist what appears to be a miraculously budding friendship. But soon, Eileen’s affection for Rebecca will pull her into a crime that far surpasses even her own wild imagination.

Alternative cover of Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Jonathan Cape, for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I have freely chosen to review.

I confess that I did look at some of the reviews on this novel before writing mine and they are very evenly divided. Some people love it and others can’t stand it. Yes, I guess it’s a Marmite kind of novel. Why? Having checked the novel in several online stores I noticed that it is classified under mystery novels, and if lovers of the genre of mystery read this novel I suspect many of them are bound to feel cheated or disappointed. Literary fiction, which is another one of the categories it is classified under, perhaps is a better fit.

The story is an in-depth look at a character, the Eileen of the title, who is narrating an episode of her own life, in the first person. It is not strictly written as a memoir. As I observed recently when reviewing a novel also told from the point of view of the older character looking back and reflecting at her young self (in that case it was Anne Boleyn), these kinds of books have the added interest for the reader of trying to work out how much of what is being told is filtered by the wishes of the older person to provide a positive portrayal of their young selves. In this case, what is quite shocking is that either that younger Eileen had no endearing features, or the older Eileen is trying to make herself feel better and reassure herself that she’s come a very long way, indeed.

Eileen is a lonely young woman (twenty-four at the time of the episode she describes), whose mother died years back, who has a very superficial relationship with her only sister (who no longer lives at home and who seems to be very different), and who lives with her father, a retired policeman, an alcoholic and paranoid man, who sees hoodlums and conspiracies everywhere. From the mentions she makes of her mother and her past experiences, her childhood was also sad and the opposite of nurturing, with both parents drinking heavily, and neither of them having any interest in family life (and even less in Eileen, as her sister seemed to be the favourite). She lives in a derelict house, drives an old car with exhaust problems, works at a young boy’s prison, and has no friends or hobbies, other than shoplifting and looking at National Geographic magazines. She lives in a world of fantasy, and even her physiological functions are bizarre.

In some ways, the novel reminded me of Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller because of the narrator, who was also very self-absorbed and had no empathy for anybody, although in that case, it wasn’t evident from the star. Here, Eileen sees and observes things carefully as if cataloguing everything that happens, but has nothing good to say about anybody, apart from the people she gets crushes on (however undeserving they might be).

The novel, full of details which can be seen as sad, shocking, or bizarre but humane depending on our point of view, hints from the beginning at something momentous that is going to happen and has influenced the choice of the point at which the story starts. A couple of new employees come to work at the prison and Rebecca, a young and glamorous woman (at least from Eileen’s point of view) becomes Eileen’s new obsession. She tries her best to deserve this woman’s attention and that gets her in some trouble that I guess it the mystery part (and I won’t discuss to avoid spoilers, even though as I said I don’t think the novel fits in that genre easily, although perhaps it shares similarities with some classics of the genre, and I’ve seen mentions of Patricia Highsmith. Ripley, perhaps?). From the reviews, I saw that some readers were disappointed by the ending, although it fits in well with the rest of the book. (And from the point of view of the character, at least, it feels positive.)

The novel is beautifully written (although the content itself is not beautiful by any stretch of the imagination), detailed and fantastically observed, and it works as an impressive psychological study, that had me wondering about all kinds of personality disorder types of diagnosis (although the whole family are depicted as very dysfunctional). It is difficult to empathise with such a character, although she seems to be an extreme representation of somebody with low self-esteem and completely self-obsessed (and at a lesser level, even if we might not feel comfortable acknowledging it, most of us have contemplated some of her thoughts or feelings at some point). She is relentless in her dislike for almost everybody and everything, but even her older self remains unapologetic (and well, it takes guts to just not care at all). I could not help but wonder how much better she is now, despite her words, as her comments indicate that she hasn’t changed an iota. If anything, she’s come into herself. But I guess self-acceptance is a big change for her.

I found it a fascinating novel, a case study of the weird and disturbed, pretty noir, but not a read I would recommend everybody. (After all, I’m a psychiatrist…) It is not a feel-good or a nice novel to read but it might be for you if you like weirdly compelling characters and are happy to go with a narrator who is not sympathetic at all. I don’t think I’ll forget Eileen or its author in a hurry.


Thanks to NetGalley, Ramdom House and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and do like, share, comment, and CLICK! And Merry Xmas!

By OlgaNunez

I was born in Barcelona and after living in the UK for many years have now returned home. I teach English, volunteer at Sants 3 Ràdio, a local radio station, I'm a writer, translator (English-Spanish and vice-versa) and I'm a medical doctor and worked in Forensic Psychiatry many years. I also have a BA and a PhD in American Literature and Film, and a Masters in Criminology. I've always loved books and apart from writing them I review them often.
I write a bit of everything, check my books for more information and my about page for links.
My blog is bilingual, English and Spanish.

22 replies on “#Bookreview Eileen: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016 by Ottessa Moshfegh. A Marmite kind of novel #TuesdayBookBlog”

Well I do like this sort of story, from your review. As a memoir writer, all variations of memoir fascinates me. I’m going to have to stop visiting Olga because I wonder if I will ever get to read all the books on my TBR, lol. 🙂

Thanks, Debby! This is a book one doesn’t forget in a hurry. I have the next book by the author in my Kindle although I’ll be pre-warned in advance… Oh, I’ve given up on the illusion that I’ll read all my books anytime soon, but it’s a luxury to know I won’t be left with no books… And, I can’t resist your reviews either. 😉

Good way of putting it Olga ‘at least we know we won’t be left without books’ LOL. Thanks so much. Looking forward to diving into your Psychiatry books. 🙂

I think with yours, it might depend on my mood when I get to them as to which one I read first, as they all appeal to me but are pretty different. Or perhaps how many hot flashes I’m having!

Lol, well only one of mine deals with hotflashes, Menowhat? But you are so right, that’s why I’m always reading 2 books at once, because of mood preference when I start a new book. 🙂

I know! That one and the one about travels where the first ones to catch my eyes… At some point, I was reading 4 at a time but it was too confusing, even when some are in Spanish. I try to stick to one now, although sometimes I might be reading or consulting a non-fiction one too…

Wow 4, I couldn’t do that, but having 2 books going at once is always nice depending on the mood, I usually have a fiction and a nonfiction book on the go for reading. 🙂

I’m sure Father Christmas is keeping an eye on it! ♥ I’m not sure you have the time, Pete, but have you thought about joining Net Galley? I know you do a lot of reviews already…

Thanks for this well thought review, Olga. It sounds very intriguing… For me, at this point, I just want to be entertained. Not a very high aspiration, I admit. But then — what’s entertaining can vary from week to week. 😉 Certainly an interesting book.
Keep getting better with that cold. Huge hugs.

Thanks, Teagan. Getting there. There are plenty of entertaining books to come yet (and next week some puzzling ones too. Well and my new one, that’s also fairly puzzling, to be honest). Do take care! 😉

Variety, that’s fantastic part about reading. There’s a genre or flavor for everyone. I confess, I’m intrigued with this review, Olga. I have never been one for tidy stories–okay once in a while–but I do enjoy mixing up my reading. 🙂 Thank you for another review to think about.

Thanks so much, Tess. It’s one of those books that is fascinating and creepy at the same time. The main character is definitely not pleasant and likeable. But then, not everybody is.

A stunning erudite review that brings the author’s work to life and makes you want to read it. Beautiful.

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