Eileen: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016

Eileen: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016 by Ottessa Moshfegh

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By Ottessa Moshfegh

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13 reviews


14 Feb 2019


Eileen is an unsettling, uncomfortable and slightly disgusting read; it's a slightly grotesque story with a slightly grotesque protagonist and narrator, and I was mostly glad when I'd finished reading it. It's quite a dark story but it doesn't get quite as dark as I thought it would and there was even something a bit unbelievable and therefore disappointing about the denouement. I got the feeling that the author was taking some kind of pleasure in trying to disgust the reader which somehow made it not quite work, but yet it did.

22 Oct 2016

If the writers intent was to shock the reader, then initially she succeeded. The begining was promising, dark and gripping, with good descriptive writing of Eileen's sordid lifestyle. We hear of her upbringing in what at best could be described as a dysfunctional family, at worst, an abusive family. Although a complex, tormented character, the unlikable Eileen's continued depravity and self loathing became tedious and boring. The charismatic Rebecca initially enchants and engrosses the hapless Eileen, but she fails as a convincing character and her part in the so-called climax of the novel seems rushed, ill thought through and disappointing.
Although not a long book, it seemed to drag and I was tempted to throw in the towel but persevered as part of our 'Shadowing the Man Booker Prize' shortlisted titles.
I read for enjoyment, to be pulled into an engrossing, inspiring novel, I'm afraid this wasn't it. Ultimately, a forgettable book, it fails as a marketed 'psychological thriller' and I would not rush to read anything else by this author.

20 Oct 2016

Eileen is a strange, unsettling and sometimes repulsive character who we see living, fifty years ago, in a small, cold New England town. She uses a bucket as a toilet, wears her dead mother's clothes, and keeps the decomposing corpse of a small animal in the glove compartment of her car.

She alternately arouses our sympathy, and our dislike; we feel sorry for her, but at the same time find it hard not to turn away from her with a shudder. It feels as if the author is pushing us to our limits with this book, but just when we feel we can't stand any more in the way of squalor, filth and dysfunctional relationships, Moshfegh reels us back in again.

Not very much happens for a long time, but somehow the author keeps us reading on. I found myself unable to put it down, reading faster and faster to find out what actually happened to Eileen, and at one point I actually gasped out loud with shock!

Odd but grimly enjoyable, this is a book that's difficult to forget in a hurry.

20 Oct 2016


Eileen – the book is quite dark and introduces us to the main character Eileen and her longing to escape from her home town X-ville and from her miserable, unhappy, bleak existence (living with her alcoholic father and caring for him) and her secretarial job at the local boys’ prison. While she makes many references to her desire to move to a big city and escape, it appears that Eileen is trapped in many different ways by circumstance and her own nature.
Many hints are given that things are about to change for Eileen and the book is a study in the build-up of tension to see how her escape will happen and what dramatic events will precipitate this. While rooting for her to move on, the plot moves very slowly towards Eileen’s fateful meeting with the glamorous Rebecca whose influence changes everything.
I enjoyed the descriptive quality of the book with Eileen’s background and relationship with her family (death of her mother and current situation with her father) having some flashes of brilliance, in that the reader can really see inside her head underneath the ‘death mask’ she portrays to the outside world, and there is a sense of sympathy created for Eileen.
However, the pace of the novel seemed to crawl forward as Rebecca does not come on scene until a third of the way in, which proved to be a longish wait for me for events to start moving ahead. There are also many descriptions of the physical side of Eileen’s life which many readers may find off-putting (or don’t care to read in such vivid detail).
The ending of the book was quite abrupt for me – and the motivation of the character Rebecca and what she was trying to achieve (and why) baffled me and did not seem credible. The ending did not live up to my expectations of finding out what sort of life Eileen goes on to lead in future, after the multiple hints and teasers mentioned and left me feeling that it was rushed and not properly drawn to a conclusion.
Not a read for the faint-hearted – while the book had some good points and well–written descriptions, overall I did not find it to be a ‘fantastic’ read.

18 Oct 2016

Sometimes we grow as readers and people by spending time in situations which challenge and disturb us. Other times we are just repulsed.

'Eileen' showers us with characters, settings and themes designed to revolt and repel, a spectrum of crimes, an assortment of abuse, the sights and smells of various body cavities.

Highly evocative writing intensifies the foul effect. However after a few chapters I grew bored of these attempts to shock as the plot was not as highly developed as the description. Perhaps by stopping reading at this point I missed the best bits of the book, but it was a gamble I was happy to take.

It takes more than an unpleasant female protagonist to stretch the reader's concept of feminism, more than a compendium of rather familiar 'shocking' themes to redefine the boundaries of the novel. Try harder, Eileen. Shock me.

18 Oct 2016


The story of 24 year old Eileen in the 1960s and the culmination of events that forces her to leave the little town near Boston she referred to as Xville, is told by her older 60 something self.

The book is about Eileen and just one week in her depraved life. The older Eileen gives a deep and disturbing account of how and who she was. She lived in a disgusting house which was never cleaned with a father who was always drunk, with one hand holding a gin bottle and the other a gun. He was an ex police officer who was prone to paranoia and once groped her in his drunken state whilst telling her how disgusting she was.

She never washed and wore her dead mother’s clothes just to make sure she didn’t get too big. She is obsessed with her body and her genitals. She suffered with anorexia and would purge her body with laxatives and in the next minute would suck a sweet only to spit it out again. She loathed herself and felt the only way she would have sex would be “by force” and hoped the person who “raped” her would be “soulful and gentle”. This alone tells you how self-depreciating she was.

Her respite, in her job at a boy’s prison, was daydreaming about a prison officer. Here she meets Rebecca who she has a crush on and is the only person ever to show friendship. This is where the culmination of events runs away like a freight train.

The book starts slowly but gathers pace to keep you hooked and guessing what the terrible event is that makes Eileen run and escape. The novel is both thought provoking and terrible in the extreme. Eileen, as a character, is damaged, horrible and loathsome but somehow you feel sorry for her. It is a grim account but compelling as the attention to detail builds the picture of events so brilliantly.

If you want a nice story don’t read this, but if you want something well written, gut churningly, cringingly grotesque; read Eileen.

17 Oct 2016

Oh Eileen, what can I say! This curious creature had me gripped from the outset, in an “I can’t stop gawping at this horrific car crash” kind of way. The sordid story of this awkward, obsessive and disturbed young woman is brought to us from the more grounded standpoint of her 70 something self. A large proportion of the book is taken up in setting the scene, detailing the backdrop that is her miserable life. Her uncaring mother has died, her drunken father has subjected her to a lifetime of verbal abuse, and she is stuck working in a grotty prison for young offenders.

Eileen has no real life at all: no friends, no purpose, and nobody to confide in. Whilst her outward demeanor is unremarkable, her inner musings about herself and others are often perverse and morbid. She fantasises about killing her father. She keeps a dead mouse in her glove-box. She imagines her older female colleagues in extra-marital lesbian embraces. And those are examples I can bring myself to repeat! Moshfegh certainly has a vivid imagination and doesn’t hold back on the shock factor.

As I wound my way through Eileen’s pathetic world, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Perhaps with the narration coming from her wiser self, the young Eileen’s actions are mitigated somewhat. We are shown that older Eileen shares our sense that her 24-year-old version was more than a little odd. Plus her cruel upbringing goes some way to explaining her peculiarities.

So it’s no surprise that when the beautiful Rebecca sails into her life and shows her a modicum of attention, Eileen latches onto her like a lovesick barnacle. And when Rebecca needs our protagonist to get her out of an extremely messy fix, the pathetic Eileen will do anything for her.

I could certainly feel the tension dragging me through this book. It was apparent something very wrong was going to happen, but it wasn’t clear what. From the main character’s sick thoughts anything was possible, and with her almost pointless existence she had nothing to lose. Despite everything I was rooting for her. It was no doubt the powerful writing and world building that suspended my belief enough for me to stand by Eileen, even when she did the unimaginable…

However, after the long and detailed build-up, I was slightly disappointed by the relatively short conclusion. It felt as though the climax was over before it had begun. With all that came before it, I needed more time to bask in the showdown. It was also slightly frustrating that we were almost given two endings. Eileen tells us, in an interesting teaser, what she had considered doing to sort out her predicament. Yes Eileen, do that! But she goes on to explain what she actually did, which was far less exciting. It was a bit like the gameshow line “here’s what you could have won”. I appreciate life doesn’t always give us the most dramatic outcome, but when we already believe this unhinged woman is capable of anything, it’s a shame when she doesn’t quite deliver those fireworks.

Notwithstanding the choice of ending, Eileen was intriguing, thought provoking, and will stay etched in my memory for longer than is strictly healthy! Certainly a worthy contender.

14 Oct 2016


Read as part of Gloucester book club's shadowing of the Man Booker prize 2016. I felt like a human pendulum when I was reading this one! Swinging from like to dislike and back to like again by the end. Gosh it's dark and ugly in places, and occasionally funny too. Eileen's bleak outlook on life is brightened by the arrival of the beautiful Rebecca who takes an interest in her. Eileen quickly becomes besotted with Rebecca who she fantasises will transform her suppressed life. Of course, things don't quite work out that way!

At times I felt disgusted and uncomfortable, for me the novel became static for a long time until finally picking up again in the last third. Whether we like it or not, Moshfeg forces the reader to live in the ugliness of humanity. We are teased by snippets of what happens to Eileen in the 50 years after she leaves X-Ville, and I'd love to know more about that. As a psychological thriller for me it fails, but 'Eileen' is thought provoking and well written and I won't forget her!

13 Oct 2016


Eileen’s world is not a nice place.

Reflecting on the week in her life, as a young woman 50 years past, before her escape from X-ville to New York and adulthood, Eileen introduces us to the demeaning drudgery of caring for her alcoholic ex-policeman father and the banality of her job working as a secretary at Moorehead, a prison for adolescent boys. And, sadly, reading about it is, itself, just as boring and tedious. Pages and pages pass without anything really interesting happening. OK, we learn of her romantic obsession with Randy, a guard at Moorehead, her fantasies about a presumed lesbian relationship between female co-workers and then, having moved on from Randy, her infatuation with Rebecca, a newly-arrived teacher at the prison; none of which are developed satisfactorily. Teasingly, only, there is a “morning after the night before”, but this is unexpanded.

Only when reaching the home straight, 40 pages from the end, does Eileen, now in possession of her father’s old gun, reveal that Rebecca has got herself into a spot of bother, having kidnapped and tied-up the ageing mother of one of Moorehead’s inmates, in retribution for her complicity in the appalling sexual abuse of the boy by his father. Rebecca begs for Eileen’s help “polishing off” her captive, and, as you do, Eileen agrees. You guessed it, the gun goes off...albeit not fatally initially. Eileen agrees to help Rebecca finish the job in a very rushed and implausible way, implicating her hapless father in the process, before making good her escape to New York and the rest of her life.

It is such a shame that this book skates superficially over several interesting story-lines that are not developed. And I would much rather have heard about Eileen’s life post X-ville, the hinted-at numerous failed marriages and disappointments. For me, Eileen’s story does not come anywhere near living up to its illustrious cover-endorsements and it is unworthy of its place on the 2016 Man Booker shortlist.

12 Oct 2016

Susie D

A brilliant read, it makes the mundane fascinating and is totally addictive. It's not a book to read whilst eating, immersing the reader as it does in quite a sordid world but it's worth missing a meal for! The title character, Eileen, is self-centred and self-obsessed, though even she has her saving graces, but as the reasons why she is the way she is are revealed, one can't help but feel some sympathy for her plight. The other characters and their stories, all seen through Eileen's eyes, are also riveting. The build-up to the final act keeps the reader guessing; there is something coming - what? There is also a lot left unsaid, however, tantalising hints that keep the reader thinking and speculating long after finishing the final page. A worthy inhabitant of the Man Booker shortlist.

12 Oct 2016


An engrossing read, bringing to mind Philip Larkin : They f*** you up, your Mum and Dad. Underparented bulimic Eileen dreams of escape and much of the tension in the book comes from the reader's desire for Eileen to break free from her alcoholic father who saps any self esteem she might have. The possibility of getting away seems to present itself in the form of Rebecca, whom Eileen wants to emulate, but who turns out to have feet of clay and behaves worse than Eileen. The heart rending story of Lee is a revealed at the end, and although Eileen does get away, we are reminded of all the other victims of abuse whose lives are ruined. The pace is fast and the characters well drawn in this unsettling novel

11 Oct 2016


This novel, set in the frigid New England winter, draws the reader into an uncomfortable, unsettling, dark and ugly world that some have the misfortune to live in. It is a study of a pitiable, despicable, self absorbed, repressed young woman who has arrived in this position largely due to her dysfunctional family. It is a gripping and intriguing read that is richly detailed but in a repugnant way. It highlights the most unpleasant and salacious side of individuals making one address the most repellent side of human nature, which most would much rather ignore and dismiss. The reason I gave it 4 stars not 5 is because the novel was anticlimactic and had a poor, improbable ending.

29 Sep 2016


Such an interesting novel with a great lead character. Eileen is gross and cynical and doubting and brilliant in equal measure. A slow-burn without ever getting boring, you'll be caught up in her world enjoy the experience.

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