Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen is the Man Booker shortlisted novel by Ottessa Moshfegh. The novel is set in the 1960’s and focuses on a lonely woman who works in a boy’s prison near Boston. She is pulled into a strange crime and disappears.

The story is in the thriller genre and has been greatly successful for the author, with Scott Rudin buying the film rights.

Most critics have been highly positive towards the book but others not so. In an interview in The Guardian newspaper, Moshfegh describes those who dislike her ‘unlikeable’ female character as ‘sexist and idiotic.’

I am sympathetic to her view. We live in a difficult world and women’s roles in this world are not always clear-cut. In real life a lot of women live under the pressure to be ‘nice’ whatever the situation and this is reflected in many of the characters in fiction.

Maybe the success of the book lies in the fact that Moshfegh is describing that world in an honest way with a real woman who is not so ‘nice.’ In other words she is exploring the grey area that is much of real life.

Most real women, like Eileen, seem to slip under the radar of society but nevertheless they have a world view worth exploring and which is interesting in it’s own right – especially those who are not too sweet.

There are still far too many female characters in novels who seem to exist to be the body that’s found by the canal path by the jogger, or the woman who changes her not very exciting self into something more attractive and so inspires us. Or, as is very common in the thriller genre, she is the woman who never seems to see it coming when her abusive partner tries to finish her off.

Many female characters are cast in roles which are designed to make us feel better, live better, while others do very little themselves yet still seem to be necessary to allow other, more dynamic characters to do their more exciting stuff around them.

Moshfegh describes having an epiphany when she was only five years old. She realised that ‘people were telling her to put my crayons away. And to get in line, and to smile’ and came to the decision that ‘this was total bullshit.’

She’s right too and I only wish I had been capable of such a decision when I was five. But unfortunately, as far as I can remember, the only thing I would have been worried about at five years old was getting my crayons back.

Ottessa Moshfegh is also very candid when she talks about the writing process that led up her book. Unusually, she admits to using a ‘how to write a novel’ type book and mentions using a book called The 90 Day Novel by Alan Watt.

Moshfegh tells The Guardian how she followed the book for 60 days and regarded it as ‘boring’ though ‘interesting to follow the rules.’ She describes following the book as a ‘fuck-you joke’ and despite her book’s success, Moshfegh hardly credits The 90 Day Novel as having contributed towards the success of her book.

Obviously she is the one who put in the hard work and whose talent is encapsulated within her novel’s pages but I would wonder if she would have completed her novel without such help.

There is no way of knowing of course. But surely there is no shame in a writer admitting that at least some of the advice we received from other writers helped us along the way – even a little bit?

According to the Goodreads site, the author of The 90 Day Novel, Alan Watt, wrote the first draft of his own bestselling and award-winning, novel, Diamond Dogs in under 90 days and sold rights to Little Brown for $500,000 – something to think about…

P.S. I am affiliate for the book ads on this page. I receive a tiny income which helps a little with the expenses of this site. Normally I say here that I only am an affiliate for books I have read. But I am time-poor right now and so I have not yet read the two books on this page. But I intend to do so and will let you know my thoughts on my what I am reading page here.

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