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Ottessa Moshfegh interview

Ottessa Moshfegh interview

Ottessa Moshfegh describes how news of Eileen making the longlist struck her as a sardonic dream and that readers’ harsh judgment of her character still astonishes her.

This is part of our series of Man Booker Prize 2016 longlisted author interviews.   

What has it been like to be longlisted?

Living out here in California, so far removed from the goings on in the UK, news of Eileen being longlisted struck me first as an absurd and maybe sardonic dream. Since accepting the truth of it, I feel happy for the book. It’s a very nice thing.

What are you working on next?

I’m writing a novel.

What are you reading at the moment?

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth.

What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?

I don’t have one.

Did you find it difficult to write a character as rebarbative as Eileen while keeping the reader on side?

No, I never thought of Eileen as rebarbative. Readers’ harsh judgment of her character still astonishes and baffles me. I always sympathized with Eileen and rooted for her in every circumstance. The rebarbative characters in the book are the prison warden, the secretaries, Eileen’s father and mother, and—despite her ‘beauty’—Rebecca. Those are selfish, brainwashed people who bully Eileen into a position of servitude and self-loathing. Repressed readers might be pricked (but titillated, I hope) by Eileen’s vivid honesty, but how can they blame her for being unhappy? And why is unhappiness a trait that would pose a risk to the reader’s sympathies? Those are very easy questions, and not the questions I necessarily aimed for the book to ask. Personally speaking, I can’t stand bubbly, jovial people. They strike me as mentally ill, and terribly boring.

Ottessa Moshfegh