Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and chosen by David Sedaris as his recommended book for his Fall 2016 tour.
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…
Why read it?
4 authors picked Eileen as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
Getting a reader engaged with an unlikeable protagonist is a challenge to any novelist.
Moshfegh succeeds brilliantly here. Eileen is as unlikeable as they come, an angry, friendless young woman who hates herself and everyone else. She works in a reprehensible, small-town prison for juvenile offenders and shares a squalid house with her nasty father.
Suddenly, though, a lovely young woman joins the prison staff. To Eileen’s amazement, she befriends her. Within days, she also involves her in a violent crime. Does this sound grim? Repellant? It’s not.
Granted, Eileen isn’t a book to be read over lunch. But the…
Moshfegh’s narrator declares in the book’s very first paragraph: “I hated almost everything,” and states soon after that she is “ugly, disgusting, unfit for this world.”
Completely preoccupied with her body—the way it looks as well as its functions, which are depicted in great detail—she is trapped in her small existence with no thought of escape until the introduction of a mysterious stranger and the unfurling of a crime.
But the crime plot becomes background to the finely wrought character study: a self-absorbed and obsessive woman on the brink of self-discovery and independence.
Moshfegh’s first novel opens with the narrator “very unhappy and angry all the time.” She is the sinister version of SNL’s Mary Catherine Gallagher, unflinchingly honest, acerbically observant, self-absorbed, and in love with her own nastiness. “Didn’t she know I was a monster, a creep, a crone? How dare she mock me with courtesy when I deserved to be greeted with disgust and dismay?” Though she becomes obsessed with beautiful Rebecca, it’s the caustic Eileen we can’t look away from, no matter how much we might want to.
In her debut novel, Moshfegh explores the dark corners of 24-year-old Eileen Dunlop’s disturbed mind with gorgeous prose. The narrator, an older and more self-aware Eileen, traces her younger self’s complex relationship with her alcoholic father and a dead-end job at all boys’ prison. She is self-loathing, transgressive, and deeply human. When she meets Rebecca St. John, an attractive and cheerful new counselor, she becomes enchanted with her, a bit of light in the darkness. Ultimately, it’s a novel about how far we’ll go to escape both a bad situation and, even more chillingly, ourselves.
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