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text 2017-05-14 14:28
Off the Peg; how Ottessa Moshfegh wrote Eileen



If you’ve been thinking of dashing off a thriller in the hope of great success in the book market, then I would have been the first person to stop you. “Never jump on a bandwagon”, I’d have said, along with, “ignore books like Alan Watt’s The 90-Day Novel. You can’t ‘dash off’ great writing.  But Ottessa Moshfegh ignored such sane suggestions and went right ahead and wrote Aileen, one of the best Mann-Booker short-listed novels I’ve read in a long time. 
 
After writing with a novella and beginning a debut collection of short stories, she decided not to “wait 30 years to be discovered” and came clean about her writing methods In a recent interview. “I’m smart and talented and motivated and disciplined… I thought: I’ll show you how easy this is.” 
 
Having worked through Watt’s advice, she wrote for 60 days to produce an ‘off the peg’ novel. But Moshfegh is too good an author to churn our rubbish. “It turned into a work of its own”, she explains.
 
Soon as I opened Eileen, I was hooked on the wonderful voice created in this disturbingly dark novel. The narrator is old, reminiscing the past. It’s 1964 and Aileen, at twenty-six, is already on the shelf. She works as a clerk in Moorhead, a penal institution for young men, where she's in lust with Randy, one of the guards; off duty she stalks him, knowing full well he’d never look at her and convinced she would never agree to have sex with him anyway…her first time “would be by force”.
 
 
http://themanbookerprize.com/books/eileen-by-ottessa-moshfegh
Aileen's self-loathing forbids her to wash regulaly. She dresses in her dead mother’s old clothes and eats frugally, believing herself to be fat and ugly inside and out, purging her system with laxatives. She joins her drunken father each night in drowning out the cruel world. But secretly, she’s saving her father’s pension and dreams of escape.

Moshfegh knows precisely what an unlikable character she’s created. In Vice Magazine she said; “My writing lets people scrape up against their own depravity, but at the same time it’s very refined … It’s like seeing Kate Moss take a shit.” To a degree she seems to be writing from experience; in the past she’s had both drink and eating problems.
 
The story is told through the device of the interior monologue, or if you prefer, the “retrospective first-person”. The sensation of reading is that of a half-whispered story over a cup of tea…the need to tell someone the secrets of your past, before you die. Reading the first half of the novel as my train pummelled over the Pennine way (and the second half as it roared back to West Wales), it was if Eileen reached one of her thin wrists out from the pages and dragged me into the last week of her life before she left her small town and escaped to New York. 
 
Eileen sees the world from a bleak perspective which has a constant edge of humour. In the packed carriage of my train, I experienced those embarrassing moments – laughing out aloud – time and again. Eileen is a very funny novel. The black irony kept me gripped as much as the promise that her drear life was leading to dreadful violence.
 
Right from the start, I knew Eileen was not going to come out of this journey as the innocent victim. “This is not a love story”, Aileen says. “I was not a lesbian”, and, “I didn’t eat good food until my second husband”  In a delicious nod to Chekhov’s foreshadowing device; “Before I go on describing the events of that Saturday, I should mention the gun.” She hints that there will be terror and bloodshed, and I believed her implicitly because these are her memories, and her urge to confess is palpable.
 
The festive season is steadily approaching; the contents page tells us that it will all over by Christmas Eve, but the sad festivities are subverted wonderfully by Eileen’s repressively dark mind. It’s her job to decorate the institution’s Christmas tree, while at home, there is not a bauble to be seen, just a dead mouse in her glove compartment.
 
At this point, Rebecca, a stunning, red-headed graduate, comes to work at Moorhead. Eileen is swept up into a kind of obsession when Rebecca shows an interest in her. Both girls are drawn to an inmate, Polk, who has killed his policeman father. Eileen watches Polk masterbate while in solitary confinement, but Rebecca has access to his notes and, in her role as the new psychologist, believes she can penetrate the young man’s mind to find the truth about him, a decision that is the catalyst to action.
 
So, if you’re about to start a novel using Watt’s 90 day, or any other formulaic method, do read this book first, checking it out against the standard tips, like Joanna Penn’s: Grab the reader by the throat, have a crime, don’t write likeable characters, have an ending that slaps you in the face. Huge ticks with these. Or my own tip: rock the boat half-way through, as Moshfegh does with her Rebecca character. 
 
This is a psychological thriller, and that’s given Moshfegh good sales, a popular following and some great reviews – Anthony Cummins in the Telegraph was left “dumbstruck by her sly, almost wicked storytelling genius”. But she also has her critics. Lydia Kiesling in her Guardian review thought that; “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.” Yes, I noted that failing too, early in the text. Things like, I was very unhappy and angry all the time. Moshfegh has fallen into the trap of ‘telling not showing’. But it’s a very little slip, the sort we all make at some point when writing hundreds of pages of story. Mostly, the book is all ‘show', a vivid picture of 60’s USA, of the edges of society, of mental health, and of how easy it is to lose one’s own integrity, or have it stolen away.
 
Eileen might be thought of as an unreliable narrator, but I found nothing but the truth in the heated depths of the text. I believed in her completely. She may be flawed, but she felt like an intensely real, if bleak, creation. In that, I seem to agree with Moshfegh; “Eileen is not perverse. I think she’s totally normal … I haven’t written a freak character; I’ve written an honest character.”

And honest character who has committed the most awful crime, that is...

 

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review 2017-05-07 21:10
Toni FGMAMTC's Reviews > Roses are Red
Roses are Red - James Patterson

I always enjoy getting another installment of Alex Cross. I feel like I know him, his family and partner. This story is a little about his romantic life, but of course, it's mostly about a high profile crime. Someone is robbing banks and killing people. He has to try to figure things out. The reader gets some from the point of view of each side, the perpetrators and the detectives with some twists thrown in.

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review 2017-04-26 13:51
Convoluted Crime Fiction: "She Died a Lady" by John Dickson Carr
She Died a Lady - Carter Dickson

Just about every book written by John Dickson Carr is a locked room mystery, and all of them try to play fair (thus also trying to drive the reader nuts), but I always feel Carr tried too hard. His books are so convoluted that they become almost unreadable. I’m a bit reluctant to continue reading books wherein the intricacies become utterly unbelievable (why do some authors bother to impinge on our consciousness crap like this?) I’m better off reading Agatha Christie. This Carr was me being back to 'easy' reading after a hard week reading hard stuff. This one is among his middle-rankers. The method of murdering two persons close to a cliff with only his own footprints on wet sand was clever - maybe a bit too clever-clever - and the characters a touch clichéd - but then you do meet the same people over and over again in a Carr novel. The fun is in trying to out-guess him, and in the wonderful, spooky atmospheres he creates. Unlike Christie, the Carr’s leave a lot to be desired. In this case the solution just doesn't hang together. The characters and motivations are there but the explanation of the murder is just too weird. Carr once again didn’t play fair.

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review 2017-04-22 17:06
Dated Crime Fiction: "Sunset Express" by Robert Crais
Sunset Express - Robert Crais

Gosh, Robert Crais! I really want to like you, but after lots of books in and it still feels like gawky blind dating rather than true love.  I should be really digging these Crais novels, but I’m not. A smart-aleck gauntleting detective with a mean-as-hell friend is something that I can’t get enough of in other books. But something just isn’t coalescing here. From Crais first novel, I thought that Crais was doing a west coast version of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels and that feeling continues here. It isn’t Crais’ fault that I’m reading these over many years after he wrote them and that they seem dated in a lot of ways to me; having said this, there are still just too many clichés for me to overlook in this. Plus, Elvis is just such a dogged know-it-all that he tends to get on my nerves. Characters like Marlowe, Spenser or Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie can be wise asses and tough guys, but it feels like Cole can’t let the mildest thing go by without trying to act like a comic at karaoke night. What saves this book Cole’s quick jokes. So quick, he had me laughing like crazy a few pages in. That's pretty darn quick.

NB: According to BL/GR/LT this is my 400th/396th/394th book review. I believe BL is correct.

 

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review 2017-04-21 16:31
great follow up to the first book in this crime series
The Vixen's Scream - John Dean

A solid traditional British murder mystery with a contemporary edge by veteran author John Dean. The books is strong on the police work, which is closely observed, and the plot has quite a few twists and turns that will keep you guessing the identity of the killer.
Set in the Northern Pennines, this is a charming, atmospheric title that will appeal to a wide range of readers.

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