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Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Book review of “Eileen” by Ottessa Moshfegh. Published by Penguin in August 2015.

If you scanned any of the literary websites for Best of 2018, you will have come across Ottess Moshfegh’s name for her latest book, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”. There’s quite a buzz about her writing, so I went back to her second book, “Eileen”. Her first book, “McGlue”, just came back into print.

The narrator of “Eileen” is the main character of the book several decades after the most pivotal weeks of her life and it is this story she retells: the days that led up to her abandoning her life in 1964, her drunk father, her dead mother, and her job in a prison for teenage boys. As the narrator tells it in the opening paragraph:

I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus, reading some clothbound book from the library about plants or geography, perhaps wearing a net over my light brown hair. You might take me for a nursing student or a typist, note the nervous hands, a foot tapping, bitten lip. I looked like nothing special.

Moshfegh’s “Eileen” is not a blow-by-blow of the events leading up to her flying of her leaving X-ville, rather it’s a mediation on the narrator’s lost youth. This is nothing like a crime novel even though a heinous crime is committed.

Many books pretend to enter the psyche of its characters, but with Moshfegh’s “Eileen” we are swimming in the narrator’s weirdness and basic inability to function in society. Yes, the reader feels like a horrible fly on the wall as we witness some throughly disturbing psychological episodes, but knowing that the narrator has some how made it through to the other side of life allows you to keep reading on. Moshfegh is as good as everyone says she is and if given a chance, I’m sure you’ll dig this book too.

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