Three Short Reviews – Eileen (2015) – The Loney (2014) – Saturday (2005)

Ottessa MoshfeghScreen Shot 2016-04-15 at 09.37.31Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 10.16.27

I finished so many novels recently that I will never be able to review them all. That’s why I decided to do a post with shorter reviews. It doesn’t mean that the books weren’t as good as other books I’ve read. Just bad timing review-wise. I’ve added some blurb quotes at the beginning. Either as a contrast to what I wrote or to emphasize my opinion.

Ottessa Moshfegh

Fully lives up to the hype. A taut psychological thriller, rippled with comedy as black as a raven’s wing, Eileen is effortlessly stylish and compelling. – Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Times

First up is Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen. The tale of a crime that is instrumental in freeing the main character. Now this is a book I’m not likely to forget. The writing is so assured and strong. The voice of the narrator is original and the way the book was told worked remarkably well. The narrator, who was once called Eileen, is now an older woman, looking back at something that happened a long time ago. Back then she was an insecure woman who lived with her alcoholic father in a very dirty, sordid home and worked in a boy’s prison. When the new counselor, the glamorous Rebecca, arrives at the school, things first get very exciting for Eileen and then they get out of control. Eileen is a very unpleasant character. It’s not always a joy to be inside of her head. She has perverse fantasies and some of her hidden habits are really gross. The reasons why I enjoyed this taut noir so much, is that the older Eileen constantly adds information about her future life and because we sense that things will go wrong, we wonder how she managed, in spite of everything we are told, to have an almost normal life. I also enjoyed that it’s never really clear whether she’s totally unreliable or just completely deranged. Ottessa Moshfegh has been on my radar for a while. Many of her short stories have been highly praised. She certainly is a very assured and very talented writer. I’m really keen on reading more of her stories and hope she’ll write another novel soon

If you’d like a more detailed review here’s Guy’s post on Eileen. I discovered the book on his blog.

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‘The Loney is not just good, it’s great. It’s an amazing piece of fiction’ Stephen King

The Loney won the Costa Prize in 2015. I received the novel as a Christmas gift. I’d never heard of the book before but the person who gave it to me, knows that I like dark and gothic tales. I’m really glad that I’ve read it but not entirely sure I liked it. The atmosphere is amazing. It’s set in a bleak desolate part of England, near the coast in Lancashire. The Loney is a stretch of land that gets cut off and turns into an island during high tide. Getting lost between the land and the sea is very dangerous. The tide comes in quickly and surprisingly. The narrator is an older man. The story he tells takes place when he’s still a young boy. For a long time it’s not clear if what happens in the book is just the result of religious fanaticism or whether there is really a haunting. I found that interesting but wasn’t too keen on the ending. The story takes place during Easter. The narrator’s parents, especially the mother, are fanatics. They hope that they will be able to cure the narrator’s older brother through prayer. The mother is a really chilling charcater and sounded a lot like Jeannette Winterson’s mother.

What didn’t work so well was the subdued tone. The writing is deliberately old-fashioned, but takes, in my opinion, too much time. The atmosphere is spooky from beginning to end; the mood depressing, but there’s no real climax. It’s very well written though. I’ll keep an eye out for other books by this author. This was Andrew Michael Hurley’s first novel.

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“A book of great moral maturity, beautifully alive to the fragility of happiness and all forms of violence… Everyone should read Saturday… Artistically, morally and politically, he excels” (The Times)

I know that a lot of people love Ian McEwan. Many even think he’s an outstanding writer. While I find him entertaining, I don’t really think he is all that good. The whole time I was reading Saturday I kept turning the pages quickly, which means I was captivated by the story, but at the same time I couldn’t help but think that this was a lot like Grey’s Anatomy in book form. Captivating but also a bit trashy. Saturday tells the story of one day in the life of neurosurgeon Henry Perowne. The details are so minute that it actually made me laugh. You can sense that McEwan did a lot of research but did he have to pack all of it into his book? I found this very heavyhanded. Almost like the novel of a beginner. Now, the neurosurgery part was actually OK. Not the most fascinating topic for me, but OK. But since he wanted to add other subjects, we get a lot of information on literature—one of Perowne’s kids is a poet, and so is his father-in-law— and information on music— his son is a musician. After a while, I felt like being invited to one of those boring dinner parties where everyone has a “great career”, reads the latest books, has seen the latest movies and talks a little bit about politics and endlessly about food. There’s even a recipe in this book. Ha! Perowne and his entourage are the kind of people I’ve seen referred to as “Champage Socialists” here in Switzerland.

At the beginning of the day, Perowne thinks he witnesses something horrible. He’s unsettled. Later, he really experiences something terrible. It all left me completely cold. I’d lost patience with the character. All in all, yes, I was entertained. In a way it felt like spying on someone or like living someone else’s life for a day. Nonetheless, I can’t say I found it great or that it’s a must read.

Have you read any of these?

42 thoughts on “Three Short Reviews – Eileen (2015) – The Loney (2014) – Saturday (2005)

  1. I also loved Eileen, and am looking forward to what the author comes up with next!
    Sometimes I like Ian McEwan and sometimes I don’t, and Saturday was one of the ones that I didn’t like. For a slim book, I felt like it dragged on.
    Loney sounds worth a try! And, I like how nice all the black covers look put together.🙂

    • I seem to be drawn to black covers.🙂
      I’m on the same page with you regarding Ian McEwan. I’ve read three now. Loved one, hated one and found this one a bit blah.
      The Loney has good and bad sides but it’s still worth a try.

    • Eileen is really very good. Unpleasant in places but strong.
      I was tempted to abandon The Loney as well but I’m a book finisher and somehow I liked the way he wrote and the atmosphere. Not a book for everyone.

  2. Really insightful reviews Caroline.

    The Loney sounds intriguing even if it was flawed. Lately I have been thinking about what makes a story atmospheric. I also have been interested in reading more atmospheric works.

    Too bad that some shortcomings in the story marred it for you.

    • Thanks, Brian.
      I think The Loney gets a lot right but it’s a bit repetitive. Intriguing, though.
      I love it when a writer does atmopshere well, so I enjoyed it anyway.

  3. Eileen does sound very good, and I like the fact that it seems to be doing something different to the norm.

    I wasn’t very keen on Saturday, either – particularly the second half of the book. I think I’m done with Ian McEwan now (unless I have to read him for book group) – there are so many other more interesting authors around these days.

    • I would be done with him if I hadn’t bought five of his novels after reading Atonement which I loved. Grrr. Maybe one of them will be a winner.
      Eileen is the type of crime novel that you enjoy. Very dark. I’d love to hear what you think of it.

      • I’m a bit of a McEwan fan. I think Enduring love is a powerful book with such a strong memorable opening and the story and theme are so well sustained. I loved Atonement, and also On Chesil Beach. Some of these books deal so well with the failure of communication. He really gets me in. I liked Sense of an ending also. I did enjoy Saturday too, but it hasn’t stuck with me strongly except for the opening, and Solar had some good scenes but it felt a bit OTT or melodramatic or forced. I read Amsterdam, his Booker winning novel, but remember pretty well nothing about it. So, mixed, but some great books to my mind.

  4. I have never connected with Ian McEwan. I think Atonement is the only book by him I even liked. Others were DNF’s or just not my thing… Sometimes I just don’t get the bookish favourites.

  5. Wonderful mini-reviews, Caroline! I remember reading the news of ‘The Loney’ winning the Costa award. Glad to know that you liked some aspects of the book. ‘Eileen’ seems to be a wonderful story. I have never heard of Ottessa Moshfegh before. It is an interesting new author discovery for me. I haven’t read a book of Ian McEwan yet. There was a time he used to get shortlisted for the Booker prize every year or every alternate year. I have some of his books on my shelf – I can remember ‘Atonement’ and ‘Amsterdam’ – I don’t know whether I have ‘Saturday’. It is interesting that he gives too much information on different topics. I remember reading Tom Clancy’s ‘The Hunt for Red October’ years back and laughing, because the story could be told in probably 50 pages and the rest of the book, hundreds of pages literally, was just information. Beginner’s novel, as you have rightly said. Maybe ‘Saturday’ was McEwan’s first novel.

    • Thanks, Vishy. Unfortunately Saturday is one of his later novesl. No excuse there. I don’t think he’s that good – or very often he’s not. In any case, whether he wants to shock or does research- he’s always trying too much. I did like Atonement. Very much. But I know a lot of people who have been put off by the ending.
      Ottessa Mosfegh is an author to follow. It’s so hard to get voice right but she does.
      I’d never heard of The Loney before I received it as a gift. I can see why some people lost patinece but he’s a very good writer.

  6. I enjoyed your mini-reviews. It takes a lot of time to write a full review on each one — too many books.🙂 I haven’t read any of these books yet, so it was nice to get these quick and informative reviews on each. Eileen sounds like the most interesting of the three.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed them. Eileen is interesting but the character is actually quite revolting. Maybe you would like her historical novel. Her writing is brilliant.

  7. I missed this post somehow. Great job on all three, Caroline. I don’t care for McEwan at all, but Eileen sounds interesting.
    By the way, I finally read All Quiet on the Western Front and enjoyed it so much. Am now reading the sequel, The Road Back. It’s good, but not nearly as much as All Quiet.

  8. Eileen’s been on my radar since Guy’s review (I have it on an Amazon wishlist), so I’m glad to see your take on it and that while unpleasant in places you enjoyed it.

    The Loney I’ve been interested in since I saw a Ben Myers’ review in the New Statesman. I do plan to read it, but it’s useful to be cautioned as to the pace as that’ll influence when I read it. That’s the challenge in trying to write an atmosphere piece I guess, it becomes very easy to cross the thin line between atmospheric and simply slow.

    Ian McEwan I think is overrated and Saturday by all accounts is one of his weaker books. I’m not surprised you were unimpressed.

    • I’d be really interested to know what you think if The Loney. I haven’t seen any reviews on blogs.
      Eileen has a few revolting moments but the writing is great.
      I agree on McEwan. I still have some hope for On Chesil Beach.

  9. Caroline-Your review of Eileen intrigued me. Found a ss byOttessa Moshfegh at Paris Review. “Disgust.” What a bold, dark writer. Must read more. Thanks for putting her on my radar!

  10. I have heard many good things about Eileen and would love to read it eventually. So glad to hear you liked it, so I will watch for it to come out in paperback. I have not read much by Ian McEwan though Atonement is one of my favorite books. Lots of his novels appeal to me but I haven’t gotten around to picking more of them up. I am intrigued by Saturday, though, and your comments actually make me want to read it even more now!🙂

    • I always think it’s a sign of a good negative review if it makes someone want to pick it up.🙂
      Eileen is your kind of book. I’m pretty sure you’ll like it. And it’s so well written.

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