Monday, December 28, 2015


Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (2015)

Twenty-four year old Eileen was trapped in a life she didn't want, working at a boys' prison just outside of Boston and living with her deranged alcoholic father. Told from the point of view of herself in her 70s, she reveals what happened in the week leading up to Christmas that finally spurred her to leave her hometown of "X-ville" and start a new life.

The catalyst was a glamorous woman named Rebecca, a new coworker who befriended Eileen right away. Eileen was usually very stand-offish but was drawn to Rebecca right away, and became obsessed with her. When Rebecca drew Eileen into a crime, there was no turning her down.

Although Eileen is a crime novel, a thriller, it's not action-packed, but more of a character study and a slow burn. But it was filled with anticipation of what was to come, with many references to the eventual crime and Eileen's later life once she escapes her home and basically becomes a different person. There was a point at which I got a bit annoyed and thought come on, where is this actually going? But I am impatient and that was a brief feeling. When the crime eventually came, it was pretty great.

But it's more about the character than the crime, and she is super dark. She describes herself in unflattering ways: "I looked like nothing special...I hated almost everything. I was very unhappy and angry all the time." She was constantly punishing herself, denying herself food, comfort, pleasure. Her eating was disordered, she drank too much, she had no friends. She projected a bland exterior, a "death mask" to cover all the negative feelings swirling inside of her. She kept a dead mouse in the glove compartment of her car.

The house she shared with her father was a disgusting mess. Neither of them cleaned and the place was cluttered, dingy, and dirty. Rolls of insulation in her attic bedroom sat for years, an unfinished project her father had abandoned. In 1964, when the story takes place, it was a women's job to keep a tidy house, but Eileen rejects this role, as she rejects much of what is considered appropriate for women at the time. She is suspicious of orderly houses: "Those perfect, neat colonials I'd passed earlier that evening on my way through X-ville are the death masks of normal people. Nobody is really so orderly, so perfect. To have a house like that says more about what's wrong with you than any decrepit dump...People truly engaged in life have messy houses." Of course, despite her messy house, Eileen is not engaged with life. At least not until she meets Rebecca and everything changes.

I've been wanting to read this for a while, and picked it up this week because I saw that it takes place in the week leading up to Christmas. (On Christmas Eve as I was reading, I noticed that Christmas Eve that year was also a Thursday, so the timing was especially good.) I first heard about Eileen when I saw the galley on Edelweiss last spring before it came out. I requested the galley but didn't get approved until later when I was wrapped up in reading our Community Read nominations so it sort of fell by the wayside until I was browsing at the library a week or so ago and grabbed this copy.

It hasn't received much attention despite positive reviews, including this one from the New York Times. It doesn't have many ratings on Goodreads, nor has there been much buzz about it. But it will definitely find its way to my Staff Picks shelf, right next to other dark novels like Gillian Flynn's Dark Places and my ever-present favorite, The Cry of the Sloth. If you like dark crime novels that are strongly character-driven, I highly recommend this one.

Winter Bingo is going better than I thought it would. This fulfills the "thriller" square.

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