Reading Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh


Eileen  was short-listed for the Man Booker prize 2016. The winner will be announced on 25th October 2016.

The blurb:

The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop. Trapped between caring for 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, Eileen is enchanted.  But soon, Eileen’s affection for Rebecca will pull her into a crime that far surpasses even her own wild imagination.

My reading experience:

I think it’s fair to say that our author has been brutally honest in the creation of this work – she was broke and followed a template for writing a bestselling book. However, don’t let this put you off. The writing is far from mechanical, the tale of Eileen’s youth, told to us by a much older Eileen flows naturally back and forth between the here and now. It’s not a pretty story. It’s crude and vulgar in parts, honest to the point of distraction, and real. Very real. An eating disorder, probably body dysmorphia, alcoholism, squalor, grief, child abuse – Moshfegh has got it all covered. And it is sad, indeed tragic. There’s no magic here, but there is descriptive narrative that evokes the senses, and imagery that lifts the words from the page. “It’s a charming picture of misery”.

I’m not wholly sure that I enjoyed this book, but I will admit to finding it easy to read, with some really great lines and adjectives, and beautiful book design. I didn’t particularly like Eileen, at least not until the last few pages, but I do find something more interesting about characters that I don’t like. The fantasy she harbours for her co-worker Randy is carried over in her relationship with Rebecca – the very idea that another person speaks to her like she is a human being, and how they could be friends is like catnip. Her office companions are despicable in a harmless kind of way. We’ve all worked with those women. Rebecca is a conduit for Eileen’s escape. At one point I wondered if she was even real. Young, naive, idealistic and a coward. A school bully even. Yet obviously charismatic and therefore dangerous. 

So the story begins with downtrodden Eileen, stuck in the rut of her boring job and caring for her alcoholic father. Her daily life makes you want to cringe. And then like a beam of sunshine from the sky, in walks Rebecca. Eileen’s life changes overnight and who knows if it’s for the best. This story is about one incident. It does make you question justice, the justice system, carers, work relationships and “love”.

Full of suspense, intrigue and the ultimate unpredictable ending, this is truly a well composed story that I recommend you to read. The very opposite of a ‘cupcake book’, but not abstruse, it is obvious why it has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize 2016. 

This edition is published by Vintage. This book is made from Forest Stewardship Council certified paper. Cover photograph by Amani Willett/Gallery Stock, design by Suzanne Dean who designed the cover for the Man Booker prize winner 2011, The sense of an ending by Julian Barnes.



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