If you like sympathetic characters in a novel, characters you can relate to and root for, stay away from Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut novel Eileen. Eileen, the novel’s narrator, is none of the above. On the other hand, if you want a narrator who is severely flawed, bizarre, twisted, and truly fascinating, Eileen might be worth a try.
Eileen is a young woman living at home with her alcoholic father, a retired cop whose heavy drinking has caused him to become delusional. He believes prowlers are lurking outside their home and that he must ward them off. Eileen frequently has to smooth things over between her father and the local police when he threatens kids in the neighborhood and causes other disruptions. In addition, she still doesn’t seem to have come to terms with the death of her mother or the unloving childhood she suffered through at the hands of both of her parents.
For the most part, she doesn’t seem to understand how the world works, and, while no match for her father’s alcohol-induced hallucinations, she has delusions of her own. She does clerical work at a juvenile detention center for boys and has a crush on Randy, one of the security guards at the facility, although Randy doesn’t seem to know she even exists. After work, Eileen sometimes parks her car outside of his apartment and watches him, looking for some sign that he might be interested in her.
Eileen is part character study and part confession. The plot is a slow boil, mostly focused on Eileen’s secret pursuit of Randy and her growing anger towards her father. Because of this, I was completely surprised—shocked, in fact—at a plot twist that came late in the book. This twist was so well executed that I didn’t see it coming but at the same time found it completely plausible. If you are looking for a unique reading experience and a book that may haunt you for years, give Eileen a try.