Top critical review
Beautiful Prose and a Protagonist Who Doesn't Merit It
Reviewed in the United States on September 19, 2018
Having admired "My Year of Rest and Relaxation," I wanted to love "Eileen" as well. Unfortunatelly, while Otessa Moshfegh has written some beautiful passages, the novel falls flat in two major ways. The first is Eileen herself, a pervy 24-year-old virgin with terrible habits and morals. A classic erotomaniac, Eileen uses her job in a boy's prison to spy on the inmates, spread germs (she never washes her hands, and at one point decides to shakes hands with a co-worker after scratching her genitals) and fantasize about a guard, the warden, and one of the prisoners. On her own time, Eileen shoplifts, stalks, lies, and drinks until she blacks out. She lives in a filthy house with her father, a raging alcoholic and retired cop who is such a danger to others than Eileen confiscates all his shoes to prevent him from wandering. While I'm fine with unsympathetic protagonists, I found Moshfegh's obsession with squalor and bad hygiene so gut wrenching that I put down the novel repeatedly. The other problem is technical: though the novel takes place in a Massachusetts town in 1964, there are no regional colloquialisms and few cultural references. Worst of all is Eileen's voice, which is not that of a provincial, unintellectual working class New Englander of fifty years ago but an arch, grammatically perfect, present-day MFA recipient--i.e., Moshfegh herself. These factors are more than an irritation; they undercut the novel and expose Moshfegh's immaturity as a writer. If I had read "Eileen" first, I doubt I would have bothered with "My Year of Rest and Relaxation." I'm glad it was the other way around.