2016 Man Booker: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Our next book is one that only two of us read: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. Should this be one of the books that makes the shortlist, a few of the other judges may read it and we’ll repost with all our reviews. Book Worm and I both read this one. Here are our reviews:
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Published in: 2016
Judges: Jen, Book Worm
Find it/buy it here: Eileen
Synopsis (from Amazon): A lonely young woman working in a boys’ prison outside Boston in the early 60s is pulled into a very strange crime, in a mordant, harrowing story of obsession and suspense, by one of the brightest new voices in fiction.
So here we are. My name was Eileen Dunlop. Now you know me. I was twenty-four years old then, and had a job that paid fifty-seven dollars a week as a kind of secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys. I think of it now as what it really was for all intents and purposes—a prison for boys. I will call it Moorehead. Delvin Moorehead was a terrible landlord I had years later, and so to use his name for such a place feels appropriate. In a week, I would run away from home and never go back.
This is the story of how I disappeared.
The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a buff prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When the bright, beautiful, and cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at Moorehead, Eileen is enchanted and proves unable to resist what appears at first to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings.
Played out against the snowy landscape of coastal New England in the days leading up to Christmas, young Eileen’s story is told from the gimlet-eyed perspective of the now much older narrator. Creepy, mesmerizing, and sublimely funny, in the tradition of Shirley Jackson and early Vladimir Nabokov, this powerful debut novel enthralls and shocks, and introduces one of the most original new voices in contemporary literature.
Jen’s Review: I think this year’s Man Booker judges have a thing for thrillers/suspense since it seems like half the books I’ve read so far have fallen into that category. Honestly, I don’t quite understand how or why this book made the longlist. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad book and many people will like it, but I don’t see how it can be considered one of the best books written in the past year. In many ways, this book reminded me of Emma Cline’s The Girls, but I liked Cline’s book more (and I didn’t love Cline’s book either).
Eileen, the protagonist, is a fairly dislikable character but, from a psychological perspective, Moshfegh does do a good job getting inside the head of this very flawed young woman. As a result, we are able to understand her motivations and behaviors. Character development was the strength of the book. Unfortunately, I found myself kind of bored reading yet another book about a young person from a flawed background with alcoholic/abusive parents. This book is described as a thriller and suspense novel yet I found it fairly predictable and not very suspenseful. Since the narrator is telling her story as an old woman looking back on her younger experiences, she does a far amount of foreshadowing. As a result, I saw the twists and turns coming a mile away.
The writing style was good but nothing stellar. I found it to be a fairly quick book and I was engaged at times. However, I had to take off major points for originality since I feel like the concept has been done many times before and stylistically there was nothing that made this stand out. I don’t think this will make the shortlist (it can’t, right?). However, the critics disagree with me and it gets glowing reviews all over the place.
Writing quality: 3.5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 2.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Book Worm’s Review: I agree with Jen. I am not sure why this book made the longlist. It’s not a bad book per se, but it is nothing outstanding as far as I am concerned. It would be an average 3 star read in our normal rating system. I have marked this harshly for several reasons:
1) the narrator has an obsession with bodily functions and smells. I get the point that to understand why she does what she does we need to know her state of mind however I don’t need to know about smells every other page.
2) this is billed as a suspense thriller and it really isn’t.
3) Due to the way the story is told we don’t really get to see how Eileen develops and everyone else is just page filler. (Jen and I disagree over this).
4) While there is a major plot development at the end of the book, the narrative style made it feel to me as if nothing had really happened. I never got a sense of urgency from the book it was all very blasé.
Writing quality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot complexity 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Average score across all panelists: 12.5/20
Since there were only two of us and neither one of us loved it, we wanted to link to a few positive reviews of the book. Please check out the following blogs to see why you may love the book:
We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you plan on reading this book? Does it deserve to make the Man Booker Shortlist?
Next up… The North Water (our most polarizing book to date).