Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen is a wintery noir set in an anonymous town, and follows Eileen Dunlop and her miserable existence. If you are familiar with Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, you will appreciate the tonal and characteristic similarities of Eileen. This author does not write likable characters, but rather ones that are deeply flawed, often disturbed, and always challenge the reader’s tolerance for abnormality.
It’s Christmas time in X-Ville, the anonymous city in which Eileen spends her dreary days, but that does little to lift the darkness shrouding her life. Eileen is stuck, and is only coaxed along by bottles of gin shared in the kitchen with her drunk, nasty father and the prospect of escaping X-Ville. Beyond her job as a secretary at the boy’s prison, she has and is nothing–except for the proud new owner of her father’s gun.
That is until the synthetically joyous Rebecca Saint John takes a counseling position at the prison. Rebecca is clean, polished, and poised–a stark difference from the quietly unsettled and perverted Eileen. Rebecca unearths something inside her: Attraction? Maybe. Infatuation? Undoubtedly. The events after Rebecca descends upon Eileen’s life are catastrophic, though eventually lead to Eileen’s permanent release from the psychological grip X-Ville has on her mind and body.
Moshfegh is truly a literary master. Her ability to create a character wrought with flaws and failings and still make her readers feel a twinge of empathy for them is incredible. Eileen is more than just an eerie story: It’s a portrait of how poisonous loneliness can be and how it can warp our realities. A refreshingly strange, and sometimes uncomfortable read. I’m looking forward to reading more from Moshfegh.