Eileen is a remarkable piece of writing, always dark and surprising, sometimes ugly and occasionally hilarious. Its first-person narrator is one of the strangest, most messed-up, most pathetic — and yet, in her own inimitable way, endearing — misfits I’ve encountered in fiction. Trust me, you have never read anything remotely like Eileen ... Eileen may bore some readers and repulse others, but those with a yen for the perverse may well embrace its unsettling pleasures and exceptional writing.
Charmingly disturbing. Delightfully dour. Pleasingly perverse. These are some of the oxymorons that ran through my mind as I read Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh's intense, flavorful, remarkable new novel. 'Funny awful' might be another one. I marveled at myself for enjoying the scenes I was witnessing, and wondered what dark magic the author had employed to make me smile at them ... Eileen could have stepped out of Flannery O'Connor or Shirley Jackson. Wonderfully horrible Humbert Humbert also comes to mind. Eileen may be 'unfit for the world,' but I was pulling for her. I wanted her to escape the prison of life with father, wished that her dreams of fleeing to New York might come true.
Moshfegh writes beautiful sentences. One after the other they unwind — playful, shocking, wise, morbid, witty, searingly sharp. The beginning of this novel is so impressive, so controlled yet whimsical, fresh and thrilling, you feel she can do anything. You wouldn’t care if nothing much ever happened, if it all weren’t leading up to a crime. But it is ... Rebecca and her motivations, once we learn them, feel pasted in from another book. They do not square with the universe Moshfegh so meticulously created in the first part of the novel. We want Rebecca to be as twisted and interesting as Eileen, as tortured and menacing as her father.
Eileen is Moshfegh's most conventional work, almost classical by her canon, and yet my guess is many will join me in finding it her best work yet ... What makes Moshfegh an important writer — and I'd even say crucial — is that she is unlike any other author (male, female, Iranian, American, etc.). And this sui generis quality is cemented by the singular savage suburban noir of Eileen. She tries relentlessly to pull you away and out, not unlike her own self-destructive characters, who seem a bit addicted to their own repulsiveness.
The pace at which Eileen the narrator and Eileen the novel reveal each new piece of nastiness is very effective, alarming news delivered casually ... Rarely have I read a novel whose protagonist is such an exact corollary to the text itself. Like Eileen the woman, there are things to admire and disturb in Moshfegh’s book – the perversity, the pervading sense of doom. But there is something about this novel that, like its heroine, is not quite right. The prose clunks; Eileen is a little too in love with her own awfulness ... The bad thing that is eventually revealed, and the bad thing that happens as a consequence, don’t quite live up to the atmospheric badness with which the novel draws along the reader. But there is something satisfyingly unsettling about the novel.
[Eileen is a moody, spookily mesmeric tale of small-town murder ... Readers expecting a traditional crime novel may be frustrated by the book’s slow build-up and looping digressions. 'Some of my clearest memories may seem wholly irrelevant,' Eileen remarks, 'but I will include them when I feel they add to the mood.' But it is in that gritty, claustrophobic atmosphere that Ms. Moshfegh’s talents are most apparent. This young writer already possesses a remarkably sighted view into the bleakest alleys of the psyche.
Part of the pleasure of the book (besides the almost killing tension) is that Eileen is mordantly funny ... this tale belongs to both the past and future Eileen, a truly original character who is gloriously unlikable, dirty, startling — and as ferociously human as the novel that bears her name.
Moshfegh draws out the suspense of her narrative slowly and deliberately. Rebecca doesn't appear until nearly halfway through, and that's when things really get going. Until then, Moshfegh hits readers over the head repeatedly with foreshadowing: dark, bleak events lie ahead ... Yet Eileen's voice is so mesmerizing that the occasional clunkiness in plotting can be forgiven ... The climax of Eileen is bizarre, creepy and oddly satisfying. This novel does not fit neatly into a single genre. Its protagonist is unlikable but fascinating, and ultimately sympathetic. It is a masterly psychological drama that lingers, with a disquieting effect, in the reader's mind.
At times Eileen’s backstory and the accounts of her bizarre behavior border on the tedious; it takes patience to get to the pulpy heart of the story. But once you’re finally there, watch out—Moshfegh uses that carefully constructed foundation to build a truly shocking ending, one you’ll never see coming. It’s hard to believe she’s a first-time novelist, so skillfully has she grafted disparate genre elements onto one another: psychological suspense, horror, obsession, and madness. Eileen is as twisted, dark, and unexpected as its title character.
At times, the reader wishes the old lady would stop foreshadowing so darn much, but this is a minor quibble with an otherwise taut, well-written, and completely engrossing novel ... How will Eileen get out of X-ville? Can she leave unscathed? Why does she keep talking about her father’s gun? Though readers will thoroughly delight in the way the answers unfold, they will be left with one lingering question: What will Ottessa Moshfegh do next?
Ottessa Moshfegh’s narrators exhibit a curious combination of extreme moral nihilism and a desperate need for violent, unforgettable experiences. Eileen, her new and best novel, is a love story told by a young woman who doesn’t understand love and who is leaving behind the only man she really loves, her father ... Eileen’s problem is that she finds life boring; what Eileen never considers—and this is where Moshfegh’s gifts for dramatic irony and moral subtlety are especially apparent—is that Eileen herself may be boring. X-ville and her father are pretty horrible, but the real problem is just...Eileen. Moshfegh shows us, with this character, the dangerous connections between boredom and nihilism.
...in Moshfegh’s usual adept style, Eileen, the titular protagonist of Eileen, can both manage to be heartachingly relatable, with her unrequited crushes and her physical insecurity, and so repugnant and perverse that I squirmed at times against the urge to turn away ... [the] final twist belongs in a soap opera, so pat and unlikely is it — a shame after Moshfegh’s masterful construction of an atmosphere of unease, which flickers out with an 'um, really?' This can’t help but undermine the haunting resonance of Eileen’s dark themes, though she does take on deeply unsettling realities.
Eileen is a relatively sober portrait, occasionally leavened by a perverse humor in the vein of Southern Gothic authors. Her sentences are best when they are taut and surgical, slowly exposing the beating heart of the human condition as it begins to rot with loneliness. Moshfegh isn’t immune to the occasional cliché phrase—her and Rebecca were 'two peas in a pod,' and at one point she declares she is off to 'meet her destiny.' It’s hard to tell whether these are genuine or winks on behalf of Eileen’s naivety, but they can be easily forgiven when faced with the sheer art of pity Moshfegh has nearly perfected. In fact, the most challenging aspect of the novel lies in whether we should sympathize with Eileen or be revulsed by her habits and mindset. At its most effective, the black magic of Moshfegh’s squalid fairy tale allows us to do both ... The last scene is a circumstance that could have been transfixing, a moving dilation on the marvel of life itself amid the spoilage of Eileen’s wretched youth, but it feels unearned and almost betraying, a hint that the entire novel could have worked better in a different medium—a short story or a novella.
Moshfegh’s debut novel mixes the setup of midcentury domestic suspense tales with the psychological richness of gothic literature, resulting in an unputdownable story where very little actually happens ... Eileen is an addictive psychological thriller, but it’s also a fascinating character study, from an author whose ascension to household-name status seems inevitable.