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Eileen: A Novel Paperback – August 16, 2016
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“What makes Moshfegh an important writer—and I'd even say crucial—is that she is unlike any other author (male, female, Iranian, American, etc.). And this sui generis quality is cemented by the singular savage suburban noir of Eileen. . . . Here is art that manages to reject artifice and yet be something wholly new and itself in sheer artistry.” —The Los Angeles Times
“Eileen is anything but generic. Eileen is as vivid and human as they come . . . Moshfegh . . . writes beautiful sentences. One after the other they unwind — playful, shocking, wise, morbid, witty, searingly sharp. The beginning of this novel is so impressive, so controlled yet whimsical, fresh and thrilling, you feel she can do anything . . . There is that wonderful tension between wanting to slow down and bathe in the language and imagery, and the impulse to race to see what happens, how it happens.” —The New York Times Book Review
“The great power of this book, which won the PEN/Hemingway debut fiction award last month, is that Eileen is never simply a literary gargoyle; she is painfully alive and human, and Ottessa Moshfegh writes her with a bravura wildness that allows flights of expressionistic fantasy to alternate with deadpan matter of factness…As an evocation of physical and psychological squalor, Eileen is original, courageous and masterful.” —The Guardian
“Enormously entertaining and funny . . . A beautiful novel that tells the truth.” —Bookforum
“[An] excellent debut novel . . . How will Eileen get out of X-ville? Can she leave unscathed? Why does she keep talking about her father’s gun? Though readers will thoroughly delight in the way the answers unfold, they will be left with one lingering question: What will Ottessa Moshfegh do next?” —Boston Globe
“Charmingly disturbing. Delightfully dour. Pleasingly perverse. These are some of the oxymorons that ran through my mind as I read Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh's intense, flavorful, remarkable new novel. 'Funny awful' might be another one. I marveled at myself for enjoying the scenes I was witnessing, and wondered what dark magic the author had employed to make me smile at them.” —NPR
“If Jim Thompson had married Patricia Highsmith – imagine that household – they might have conspired together to dream up something like Eileen. It’s blacker than black and cold as an icicle. It’s also brilliantly realised and horribly funny.” —John Banville
“[A] dark and unnerving debut.” —Publishers Weekly
“…It is in that gritty, claustrophobic atmosphere that Ms. Moshfegh’s talents are most apparent. This young writer already possesses a remarkably sighted view into the bleakest alleys of the psyche.” —Wall Street Journal
“Wonderfully unsettling first novel . . . When the denouement comes, it’s as shocking as it is thrilling. Part of the pleasure of the book (besides the almost killing tension) is that Eileen is mordantly funny . . . this tale belongs to both the past and future Eileen, a truly original character who is gloriously unlikable, dirty, startling — and as ferociously human as the novel that bears her name.” —San Francisco Chronicle
"Rife with dark emotions and twisted fantasies, Moshfegh's psychological thriller is the sinister account of the reclusive Eileen, whose prospects for escape from her abysmal life take a turn for the worse when a friendship with a coworker spirals into obsession."
“Eileen swaddles the reader in its dark and sinister mood. Moshfegh's brilliant storytelling builds an almost sadistic level of suspense, so that you can't help but lean in and listen to the narrator, however despicable and repulsive her confession becomes.”
—Sarah Hollenbeck, co-owner of Women & Children First bookstore, Chicago
“Eileen is a singular read, dark and funny and full of oft-queasy truths, ones that may at first seem strange and disturbing, but then are not so far away from our own internal thoughts. Eileen is quiet, awkward and lonely. As Christmas approaches, she is desperate to leave her alcoholic father, her dismal home life and her mind-numbing job at a boys’ correctional facility. Enter her glamorous “new friend” Rebecca and suddenly Eileen is set on a path towards inevitable change, a suspenseful ride to the end. Atmospheric, cinematic, and deliciously uncomfortably heartwarmingly pathetic in the best of ways.”
—Melinda Powers, Bookshop Santa Cruz (also sent in to Indie Next)
“Eileen is unlike anything I've read since, maybe, Patricia Highsmith: a wholly captivating look at a character you're drawn towards in a strange, inexplicable alliance and from whom you can't easily part. I find myself thinking about it still, months later, in the most unexpected ways. Mosfegh has a way with the kind of imagery that brings her world into terrible, precise emotional focus, and the book builds like a slow avalanche. What a pleasure to read!”
—Camden Avery, The Booksmith, San Francisco
“Tempting plot machinations aside, you should be reading Moshfegh because she writes incredible sentences, the kind that build and build to create a warped momentum you can’t brake. They create a harsh, blackly humorous world, like Mary Gaitskill, but less grave and with more jokes.” —Gawker
“Like The Woman Upstairs and Notes on a Scandal, Eileen turns on the symbiotic relationship between love and hate, hope and delusion, and — for the reader — repulsion and absolute absorption.” —New York Magazine
“The climax of "Eileen" is bizarre, creepy and oddly satisfying. This novel does not fit neatly into a single genre. Its protagonist is unlikable but fascinating, and ultimately sympathetic. It is a masterly psychological drama that lingers, with a disquieting effect, in the reader's mind.” —Newsday
“The young heroine—if you can call her that—of Ottessa Moshfegh’s chilling debut is exactly the kind of woman whom noir authors tended to summarily ignore. Think of her as a Flannery O’Connor character wandering around a Raymond Chandler novel . . . Moshfegh uses that carefully constructed foundation to build a truly shocking ending, one you’ll never see coming. It’s hard to believe she’s a first-time novelist, so skillfully has she grafted disparate genre elements onto one another: psychological suspense, horror, obsession, and madness. Eileen is as twisted, dark, and unexpected as its title character.” —Entertainment Weekly
“In this masterful feat of suspense writing, she captures the distortions and complicities that poison families.” —BBC.com
“Eileen is a highbrow noir that introduces Ottessa Moshfegh as a talent to look out for.” —Bustle
“If Shirley Jackson and Mary Gaitskill had a literary daughter, it might be Ottessa Moshfegh, whose unnerving debut is sure to garner attention.” —Bookpage
“Literary psychological suspense at its best.” —Booklist (starred review)
“A woman recalls her mysterious escape from home in this taut, controlled noir about broken families and their proximity to violence…. The narrative masterfully taunts…. The release, when it comes, registers a genuine shock. And Moshfegh has such a fine command of language and her character that you can miss just how inside out Eileen's life becomes in the course of the novel, the way the "loud, rabid inner circuitry of my mind" overtakes her. Is she inhumane or self-empowered? Deeply unreliable or justifiably jaded? Moshfegh keeps all options on the table…. A shadowy and superbly told story of how inner turmoil morphs into outer chaos.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
About the Author
- Item Weight : 6.4 ounces
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780143128755
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143128755
- Dimensions : 1 x 5 x 7.7 inches
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 16, 2016)
- ASIN : 0143128752
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #35,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Let me start with what I liked about the book. Number 1-Eileen's character and voice. She's dark and brutal and, in her own way, honest. There are too few female protagonists out there that talk about their bathroom habits or masturbatory fantasies or violent desires in such a straight forward, unabashed way as Eileen does. She feels so authentic, even if much of what she says can't be taken at face value. All in all, I loved this character. Number 2-The town of X-ville. Moshfegh creates a dark little corner of America reminiscent of one Shirley Jackson might have imagined. With, at least imaginatively, the boys prison at its center, X-ville radiates a sad, tragic kind of provincialism that makes the reader feel for Eileen and her sense of claustrophobia. And Moshfegh makes it clear that for all its smallness and casual cruelties, Eileen still has a kind of love for the place, much like, despite the wretchedness of her father, she can't help but love him too, even as she thinks about killing him. Her desire to leave but inability to do so create the primary conflict of the first half of the book.
Ok, my main problem with the story is its length. Not that it's a long book, but the entire first half of the book merely serves Eileen's voice. Yes, It introduces her character, situation and home, but that could all be cut down to less than fifty pages (perhaps far less). To me, it felt that the author, in her pure joy of writing Eileen's voice, luxuriated in and indulged that pleasure far too long while striving to find her plot. She almost gets away with it (or, in many people's opinion, does get away with it) because the voice is so compelling. My other issue, which I think stems from the first, is that I felt, as I just mentioned, that I could feel the author searching for her plot. As if Moshfegh knew she wanted to get Eileen out of X-ville, but didn't figure out how to accomplish this until half way through the novel. Then she introduces Rebecca and this very odd plot twist (which I liked) that comes out of the blue. In my very humble opinion, I think that the author, once she discovered Rebecca and her usefulness, could have gone back and streamlined the first half of the story, cutting about 100 pages. This sense of groping also came through in Moshfegh's instance on pointing the reader's attention to certain objects throughout the novel. For instance, she refers to icicles over and over again, imagining them as murderous and threatening. I said to my wife about 1/3 of the way through that something better happen with these icicles, or I'd be pissed. Well, something does, but it's minor and feels like an afterthought. She does the same thing with the car and its exhaust issues, though this gets more consequentially used.
So, all that's to say I thoroughly enjoyed Moshfegh's writing. She crafts a compelling character that fascinates and disturbs at the same time. However, it takes over half the book for the plot to actually kick in, which, for me, meant too little tension in the first part of the book. All though she has Eileen constantly assuring the reader that consequential happenings wait just around the corner, I became impatient, feeling that the character's repeated "little did I know this would be my last Christmas in x-ville" acted as stand ins for actual suspense. When the plot does kick in, its pace picks up and I did find the conclusion, for the most part, satisfying. I would recommend giving the book a read, if for no other reason than the quality of the writing and the uniqueness of the character's voice. I'm for more character's like this in fiction. (less)
I can't help but think of what this story could have been in the hands of a more skilled and thoughtful writer, like Barbara Kingsolver. I'd really like my sixteen dollars back.
Why two stars instead of one? Roughly every 25 pages, there is a turn of phrase that is vaguely diverting. Also, the writer avoids most (but not all: lie/lay, hearty/hardy) errors of grammar and usage that plague most modern novels. From a fifth-grade English teacher's perspective, the writing bears very little criticism.
UPDATED: I finished the book this morning, and although there is more action in the last 25 or so pages, it's related in the same disagreeable way by the same uncompelling narrator. In fact, the events of Christmas Eve make the novel even weirder, and Eileen seem more sociopathic, because of the flat way she relates them. It's one thing to go on monotonously about liking to wallow in one's own filth, but to bring that same tone to what happens at the end of the story is … oh, I don't know. It's just that Eileen might be interested to a behavioral psychologist, but not to a reader. Rebecca is a deus (daemon?) ex machina, whose actions make near-zero sense; then again, we know almost nothing about her, so maybe her actions are totally in character. Lackluster finish. I didn't care at all what happened to Eileen, Rebecca, Mr. Dunlop, or Mrs. Polk. Whatever.
Top reviews from other countries
As in Plath’s “The Bell Jar” Eileen is unlikable and yet magnetic, whisked along by her own demons into the worst, obscure decisions instead of the obvious, happier solution, in the vein of Plath’s fatalism.
Themes are strangled sexuality, the loss of body as a sensual tool, and how this manifests when faced with the mirror of an attractive, socially assured woman in Rebecca. It is a study in damage, and how that is projected onto others, a private world of pain only now being shared like a sacred secret, or picked scar. It’s heady and seductive writing, so intimate sometimes it feels like too much.
Narrated grim detail show how a nasty and weak character can have a reader cheer for her. Everything is justified. The author achieves this by setting the two Eileens fifty years apart, an older Eileen plays sympathiser to past Eileen’s motives. This doesn’t help the older Eileen’s storytelling, as she misses basic decencies; the author uses this to fuel interest in both versions of Eileen. For fans of Plath, Highsmith, this book will be a joy, especially the way it all comes together at the end.