​Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh


Eileen is the year's surprise hit; outsider fiction that won the PEN/Hemingway Award then went on to be Booker Prize shortlisted. 

It is a dark novel which has been compared to Plath's 'Bell Jar' but is more like the short novels of Shirley Jackson and Jean Rhys. It is easy to see why it divides opinions, it is unsettling and the titular Eileen Dunlop is unlovable. That's the point; I think her extreme self-loathing isn't meant to evoke sympathy, merely curiosity. She herself likes books “about awful things - murder, illness, death” and if you don't then perhaps this one isn't for you.

Inevitably, then, her recollection of the horrible events that forced her to run from an American small town in the 60's makes for a tense and troubling narrative. It isn't a thriller, as such, but builds a sinister precariousness. Thank goodness Moshfegh has a wry, off-kilter tone - Eileen's home life (with her alcoholic, abusive father) and work life (at a boy's prison) would be oppressive reading otherwise. 

This unforgettable malcontent is a courageously rendered character and figure of extreme loneliness, but still gave me a laugh.