Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh


This short novel is an intense character study of someone who’s hard to like, but easy to be fascinated by. Eileen is incredibly strange and neurotic, repressed to the point of self-harm, but also judgmental and unpleasant to everyone around her, except perhaps two people she mistakenly idolizes (for a time) and whom she also stalks. Her life is pretty bleak–she lives with her drunk father and works as a kind of secretary at a juvenile detention facility. She tells the story from the perspective of an old woman, with this time of her life far in the past. She views this story as the time when she escaped a terrible existence and became the bolder woman she was meant to be.

The two books I’ve read that are easiest to compare to this one are Tampa, a sex-reversed Lolita in which a middle-school teacher sleeps with her male students, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, with its crazy, ostracized narrator. All three of these voice-driven books feature insane, transgressive female narrators, but also show how they are products of their environments.


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