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Booker Prize for Fiction > 2016 Shortlist: Eileen

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message 1: by Trevor (last edited Jul 27, 2016 05:02AM) (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh


UK Publication Date: March 3, 2016
US Publication Date: August 18, 2015
272 pp

The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s carer in his squalid home and her 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 handsome prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When the beautiful, charismatic Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at the prison, Eileen is enchanted and unable to resist what appears 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, blending true noir and the eerie, unforgettable books of Shirley Jackson and Flannery O’Connor, this mesmeric, terrifying, sublimely funny debut novel enthralls and shocks, and introduces one of the most original new voices in contemporary literature.

message 2: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee I really liked this, unlike pretty much everyone else outside the judges, by the sounds. Hope it makes the shortlist.

Doug It's the only one of the nominees I had read prior to the announcement - and I gave it a measly two stars. I thought it very sluggish, and depressing! :-(

message 4: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee There you go, Doug - that seems to be the consensus!

James Pomar | 92 comments I also loved this one. Shocked but pleased to see it on the longlist.

Amanda (tnbooklover) | 99 comments I started this one today. Only about 12% in but I'm intrigue.

Amanda (tnbooklover) | 99 comments I really liked this. It seems to be a book people either love or hate. In some of the reviews people seem to take issue with the MC. I didn't have that problem. I found her to be very believable. It is certainly a dark and somewhat depressing view of humanity but I found it to be a really good read. 4 stars.

message 8: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
Here is a link to Lee's review over at The Mookse and the Gripes.

I've been looking forward to the book for several months, so I'm anxious for my copy to arrive (today??!). In the meantime, I've been really enjoying the back and forth between Lee and David on the site about whether Eileen is noir or not, and whether it matters. I'd recommend it, and I'd love more input.

Matthias | 52 comments I liked the first 2/3, up to the climax. Amazing. Then, I am afraid, it not only lost momentum, but it reduced itself to irrelevance. Sad.

message 10: by Dan (new)

Dan I’ve enjoyed and benefited from the comments on Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen in The Mookse and Gripes. Having just read Eileen, the book has not yet percolated through my memory. My initial responses to it are somewhat contradictory, and may change after a few days or weeks.

I am always impressed by any novelist who dares to construct main characters who might be read as largely unpleasant, unsympathetic, and unlikable. I usually cringe when I read LibraryThing and GoodReads reviews that center around readers “not liking” the characters. Well, right-on, Ms. Moshfegh, thank you for inventing Eileen, and for portraying her with all of her bodily and sexual obsessions, her unrelenting distaste for her father and her mother, and her nasty games with the mothers of visitors to the boys’ detention center. I would, however, have appreciated Eileen more if Moshfegh provided a less melodramatic ending than Eileen’s Christmas eve with Rebecca and Mrs. Polk.

But it’s difficult for me to think about Eileen on its own, instead of within the context of other novels in this year’s longlist and especially other titles omitted from this year’s longlist. In her March 5th review in the Irish Times, Eileen Battersby summed up my feelings well: “Eileen reveals a great deal about the gimmicky quest for the next big thing which often turns out, as it does here, to be far less worthy of attention than yesterday’s superior offerings.” In this case, it’s hard for me to imagine that Eileen is more worthy of inclusion on the longlist than several omitted titles that I’ve recently read and that have been discussed on this forum.

message 11: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 456 comments The first eighty-five percent of the book is a first person account of a week in the life of 24 year old Eileen, told by 74 year old Eileen. This trick didn't work for me. The only minute by minute recollection that could be given after 50 years is fiction, not recollection. So the occasional wise, experienced comments of the 74 year old grated and the whole thing just didn't ring true. So, strike one against this narrative. Second, Eileen is completely unlikeable. Courageous stand by the author to create such an unlikeable character who takes up 95% of the book? Hypothetically, maybe. But for me, she simply whined and stank. Strike two. But the part I really disliked was the last 15% of the book. The crime part. The scene with Rebecca in the house was interminable, and when we finally got to the purpose of the evening, the scene lacked any tautness. It just meandered, and then the book ends.

If I was forced, I guess I could write some clap-trap about how this is a re-envisioning of noir, with an emphasis on the inner wretchedness of humanity. But I won't. That isn't how it struck me. I just found the characters tawdry and pathetic. And Rebecca? Totally two-dimensional B movie character, and to what purpose?

message 12: by Doug (new) - rated it 2 stars

Doug My two star review (from Sept. 2015):

My impetus for reading this was a rave from Bill Clegg, who I believe was the agent who sold it to Penguin... and whose Booker nominated first novel I really loved. Well, Clegg's own writing is much better than his taste. This is a slow, plodding, repetitious short novel that MIGHT have worked better as a short story. The story doesn't really get going till the book is nearly done, and the 'shocking' revelation has been done many times before. Eileen herself is an intriguing character (think Mia Wasikowska in any of her more oddball film roles), but her story just plods on and on and on...

message 13: by Deborah (new) - added it

Deborah (brandiec) | 44 comments Eileen is a "Read Now" book on NetGalley today. I'm very excited; I've been wanting to read it, but my library doesn't have it and I wasn't sufficiently interested to buy it.

Rebecca (rmtb) | 6 comments Deborah wrote: "Eileen is a "Read Now" book on NetGalley today. I'm very excited; I've been wanting to read it, but my library doesn't have it and I wasn't sufficiently interested to buy it."

Thanks for pointing that out, I've been hoping it would be available on netgalley :)

message 15: by Deborah (new) - added it

Deborah (brandiec) | 44 comments Rebecca, I was surprised, both that they added a book long after it was published in the U.S. and because they made it "Read Now." I suspect it may have something to do with its inclusion on the Man Booker longlist.

message 16: by Viv (new) - rated it 4 stars

Viv JM | 37 comments I liked this more than I expected to, given the negative feelings it seemed to generate in most. The plot itself could have been a short story but I thought the character study of Eileen was really well drawn. I found it repulsive at times but also compelling.

MisterHobgoblin Eileen has moments of fun, but the pacing is horribly wrong.

Essentially, this is supposed to be a psychological thriller. And for much of the novel - narrated by an elderly Eileen looking back on a week of her youth - there are dark hints that something cataclysmic is about to happen. And then it doesn't. And then it still doesn't. In fact, it takes 85% of the novel (thanks Kindle for the percentage counter) before anything even slightly thrilling happens. For the most part, we just have Eileen working by day as a secretary in the local juvenile prison and by night as the enabler for her alcoholic ex-cop father. Eileen is plain, probably Lesbian, and most unsympathetic in both senses of the expression. She hates her father, has no friends, is oblivious to what happens in the prison around her. She has plans to run away, but you know deep down that she won't. And this carries on for 85% of the novel. Apart from Rebecca, a glamorous new psychologist who seems to capture Eileen's imagination, nothing happens.

Then, suddenly, whoosh! In one night of madness, everyone seems to start acting out of character. Perhaps it was because that one night was Christmas Eve and everyone had a good dose of festive cheer, but the action really starts. Unfortunately, it is not especially psychological or terribly thrilling. It's a single moment of reveal that doesn't really feel like sufficient payback for the reader's investment in getting to that point. And then the plot goes a bit hazy.

It is really not clear what benefit the reader gets from the device of Eileen looking back on that week of her life some 50 years later. There seems to be little attempt made to learn from that week, or to re-evaluate that week in the light of the subsequent 50 years. In fact, the reader learns precisely nothing about those intervening 50 years. It just feels a bit ho hum.

Look, Eileen isn't a bad book. There's nothing to actually regret in having read it, and Eileen herself is an interesting character study. She has quite a distinctive voice that does hold the attention. Some of her attitudes and actions ate comically grotesque. But at the same time, there is little that is remarkable enough to actually recommend the book and because the pacing is so badly off-centre, I imagine many readers would never actually get to the action.

Odd choice for the Booker Longlist.

Jonathan Pool An uncomplicated, but enjoyable read. For the majority of the book the character development of Eileen was nicely paced, and I had a real feeling of foreboding as the denouement approached.
The ending disappointed rather, and while Eileen's personality was developed gradually, the ending was rushed.
Eileen is unashamedly presented as a social misfit with a number of bad habits and lifestyle choices. She's actually nasty, rather than misunderstood, or a victim.

Eileen is my tenth read of the thirteen 2016 Booker long list.
I'm struck by the similarity in themes in a number of this years books. Hot Milk also features the efforts of a daughter to free herself from the dominating, bullying, presence of a parent (mother in that case, father in Eileen). Both address sexual frustration, and liberation, in not dissimilar ways- including gender attraction ambiguity.
Hot Milk is highly regarded by many readers within this Booker group, while Eileen barely rates a single advocate (Dan the exception). Hot Milk seems to be favourite to win the prize overall, Eileen is a rank outsider.
I'm intrigued by the disparity in reception here. Personally I felt Eileen was the stronger of the two if any comparison with Hot Milk is warranted..

Louise | 224 comments Got it from the library today! :-)

Antonomasia | 2629 comments Jonathan wrote: "She's actually nasty, rather than misunderstood, or a victim."

As there is quite some detail about Eileen's parents and upbringing, though, and she's never spend much time among people from whom she could have learnt differently, there's clear explanation of why she is the way she is.
Contrast with, for example, Murray from All That Man Is - there's no apparent reason for him being so awful, plus he's twice her age and has had a lot of time away from possible adverse influences in his upbringing, during which he could have sorted himself out a bit. That makes him IMO a great deal more exasperating and someone who'd be a lot more annoying to be stuck with for a while than Eileen.

Perhaps there is a gender divide in whom one may find more objectionable, as Murray harrasses women, and Eileen is shown stalking a man early in the book.
(Meanwhile, neither of them presents the level of danger of Henry Drax from The North Water.)

Louise | 224 comments This is actually my favourite so far - the language, images and characters worked and it really captured why people with a very troubled past can suddenly do crazy stuff, can have an almost impossible time "untwisting" and can be taken advantage of - for scraps of affection.

message 22: by Paul (last edited Sep 16, 2016 02:18PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10293 comments I'd side with the opinions of those who found it disappointing - indeed in a shocking twist (certainly more shocking that the one in this book), after our differences on The Sellout and DNSWHN, I find myself agreeing with Mr Hobgoblin.

Some interesting interviews where she seems to acknowledge the holes in the book - the inconsistent distance between the character and narrator, the implausible Rebecca, the overly clunky "noir" elements - as virtues. Indeed she charmingly announces "it started out as a f***-you joke, also I’m broke, also I want to be famous" (my prudish censorship)




The problem is that even if poor writing is knowingly poor, one still ends up reading a poorly written book, and one that actually detracts from what might, handled better, have been a very interesting character study.

message 23: by Ang (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ang | 1685 comments I lean more toward David's argument on Lee's review but I don't know enough about noir to be emphatic.

I found Eileen as a character sympathetic and understandable, given her circumstances. I'm not sure I believe in Rebecca or the situation on Christmas Eve, but I liked the book well enough.

One thing that doesn't work - Rebecca invited Eileen over before Christmas Eve, to the house they ended up in, but they ended up in that house because of something that happened on Christmas Eve morning, unplanned by Rebecca. Hmm.

message 24: by Ang (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ang | 1685 comments Thinking of Eileen and Lucy Barton, both suffering abusive childhoods, the judges probably thought they can't include both. I wish they'd gone with Lucy Barton.

message 25: by Hugh (last edited Sep 19, 2016 10:48AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3540 comments Mod
This book just seemed to lack sparkle. I might have enjoyed it more if I had read it with no preconceptions - I do like the idea of a heroine with almost no heroic qualities, but overall I just felt the book was a bit dull and drab, and I would be surprised and disappointed if it wins.

message 26: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee I really enjoyed reading this and could honestly read it again anytime. I don't think it's good enough to win by any measure but I'm delighted it's on the shortlist. It takes risks and doesn't set out to please. David Szalay's book takes zero risks and sets out to confirm stereotypes (and is also finely written, and is far more likely to win, I'd imagine). Many of Eileen's shortcomings as eloquently pointed out on here are often the things I like about it: it's discordant and raw and rough and bitter. The style and the mood and the central character are all consonant, and you acutely feel all the "f***-you joke, also I’m broke, also I want to be famous". I loved that.

"This book just seemed to lack sparkle" - Hugh, I'm sure many folk have said similar about Patricia Highsmith and Jim Thompson. But I'm also a fan of writers like Stephen Wright, Craig Nova and Russell Banks, so maybe I'm more susceptible to something like Eileen.

Lucille (lucillet) | 1 comments Lee wrote: "I really enjoyed reading this and could honestly read it again anytime. I don't think it's good enough to win by any measure but I'm delighted it's on the shortlist. It takes risks and doesn't set ..."

I couldn't agree with you more. I don't think this will win, but I think Moshfegh is an exciting badass talent and I'm so eager to read more from her.

message 28: by Sara G (new) - added it

Sara G | 166 comments Much of the commentary about Eileen hangs on its innovativeness, but it reminded me very much of Wetlands, only with the added noir aspect. I enjoyed both books and would gladly read more from Moshfegh, but the "it's so original" argument doesn't really work for me. It's more like "usually the Man Booker judges don't award this type of work" than "this type of work is not being written."

message 29: by Eric (new) - rated it 2 stars

Eric | 257 comments So that book was "fine". The 85% part meandered of course, but Eileen, as a character, was off-kilter enough to hold interest. The plot twist wasn't handled all that deftly, but that didn't really irritate the way it could have; perhaps it too was off-kilter enough to mirror the character. Or perhaps because the first 200 pages were just "fine" it didn't have enough to lose for me to nitpick. Final thought - I wanted to throttle the 75 year old woman recollecting the story. What an awful voice/narrative device. She wasn't present enough to really detract all that much, but it wasn't pretty.

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