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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
Originality: 2/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 2.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total 13/20

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
Originality 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot complexity 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total 12/20

Average score across all panelists: 12.5/20

Ranking of Longlist books to date (links will take you to our other reviews):
1. The Sellout
2. My Name is Lucy Barton
3. Eileen

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:

The Writes of a Woman blog
A Little Blog of Books

Want to try it for yourself? You can buy your copy here: Eileen

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).

25 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tracy S #

    Well, darn. I thought this one sounded really good,it had such good reviews, and it won the PEN Hemingway, so I bought it. I guess if it makes the short list, I’ll bump it up. Otherwise, it may languish for a bit on the shelf. That’s okay- I’ve got more than enough other material!

    Liked by 1 person

    August 19, 2016
    • Check out the other reviews we linked to. It’s short so a quick read. It does get glowing reviews but my guess is you will feel similarly to us since that’s usually the case


      August 19, 2016
  2. Anita Pomerantz #

    Ha ha, so reading this one despite the fact that neither of you liked it, lol. Because based on your descriptions, I think I will. Great analysis though . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    August 19, 2016
  3. Just got an ARC of this from the publisher so now feel obliged to read it even thiugh based on yiur review I’m. It going to rate it highly. The problem with a thriller where the protagonist tells the story in retrospect is that we know they come out of it alive so bang god one element of suspense from the start.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 20, 2016
    • I look forward to reading your review. Hopefully you like it more than we did. I didn’t dislike it, I was just underwhelmed and confused as to why to made the long list.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 20, 2016
  4. mootastic1 #

    Well if Christmas is the tag at PBT, this may not be a bad one to try.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 20, 2016
    • Yes! That would be a great idea. So much better than most of the other options


      August 20, 2016
  5. Scott #

    Overall, I thought it was a fascinating book about interesting characters. It got a little messy toward the end (the woman in the basement “scene” was borderline comical) and the conclusion was vague, but for the most part it was original and riveting. Mossfegh just seemed to run out of steam.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 22, 2016
    • yes, that bit was a little silly for me too. I’m glad you liked it though. I think it will appeal to many, despite my lukewarm feelings about it.


      August 22, 2016
  6. I really liked this book, but because I haven’t read the other books on the longlist I can’t say how I would feel about it compared to the others. I do agree that it wasn’t much of a suspense thriller, but I liked it anyway. I wonder if it helped that I read it shortly after it came out – before reading other reviews of it, and before knowing even how it was being marketed.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 2, 2016

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