Meet Eileen: she is 24, pathetic, unlikeable and bitter. She hates her body and her job almost as much as she hates taking care of her alcoholic father. In fact, under the boring facade she presents to the world, Eileen harbours a deep hatred for most things: “I looked so boring, lifeless, immune and unaffected, but in truth I was always furious, seething, my thoughts racing, my mind like a killer’s”. Told through the lens of an older, more experienced Eileen, this is the story of how she left her small New England town one December evening in the sixties to never go back.

As its title suggests, Eileen is driven by its main character’s development more than its plot, which is revealed in the first few pages. If unlikeable female characters have become Moshfegh’s signature (My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Death In Her Hands both centre around morally questionable heroines), Eileen might be the best-crafted one. Through energetic and bitingly bitter sentences, Moshfegh gets at the ugly parts of what it feels like to be a young woman—angry, scared, lonely—without caricaturing her main character. Eileen might be bitter and self-loathing, but she is also sensitive, intelligent and funny.

Although the novel works more as a character study, it does not leave out excitement and the occasional plot twist; twisted, indeed, is a pretty accurate word for many of the events taking place in this unsettling tale. Crime, dysfunctional families, gun violence and a mysterious newcomer get the story going, but Eileen is always at the centre of the stage: her way of telling her story, her dark humour and her strangeness. Though gritty and gory at times, Eileen is after all a coming-of-age story, but a distinctly feminine, gruesome and haunting one.

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