Friday, 28 July 2017
Review: Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen
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This is an interesting book, but not quite as good as the jacket quotations. Nothing new in that. It is supposed to count as a “psychological thriller” or a crime novel on the strength of the last forty pages out of 260 but that’s pushing it and, in any case, those pages seem a bit contrived and implausible – there are not just loose ends at the end but awkward jumps and implausible claims. In contrast, what goes before is a sustained effort in character building. Most of the book is devoted to building the character of the first-person narrator, Eileen, who isn’t very likeable, has habits not for the squeamish, and lives an awful life spent between two prisons – home and her place of work. It is only late in the book that a second, contrasting character is introduced – Rebecca, who is imagined by Eileen as her opposite: adventurous, clever, glamorous, the usual suspects. At this point, I was reminded of Suzanne Rindell’s The Other Typist where the life of the narrator, a police precinct typist, is transformed by the arrival of her Other. Rebecca's arrival turns the novel into Eileen's Coming of Age story.
I did sit up late to finish the book but then the late sitting only began because I could see I had just thirty pages to go. Before that, the tone of Moshfegh’s narration is very even – the language, the pace – and had my own mood been distracted I think I would have given up on the book long before the end. That said, the imagination deployed in creating Eileen and the serious commitment evinced in doing it over so many pages is impressive. But a lot better than that? Let’s wait until we read about people reading this book for a second or third time.