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Review: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

©Penguin Books

The genre: Contemporary fiction, suspense

The gist: In 1964, Eileen works at a prison office at a male juvenile detention center, is daughter to an alcoholic ex-cop, and has lots of opinions on both.

The background: My brother used to work at the airport, and in the break room they had what they called their “library,” which was the was the stacks upon stacks of books that got left at the airport on a daily basis accumulated by the employees. Sometimes he’d send me photos and I’d ask him to grab specific titles for me; other times he’d just grab me a random book or two. This was one of the random ones. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years, and it was the perfect read last month during a snowstorm in Chicago!

The tea: I’m really glad this book fell into my lap.

It’s dark in a Gillian Flynn way, and I love Gillian Flynn. It reminded me a bit of Psycho by Robert Bloch, too. The writing in both is shrewd and to the point, and both Norman Bates and Eileen are calmly tortured introverts, who crave social interaction but react kind of…intensely when they really like someone.

Eileen is judgy, resentful, insecure, and slightly delusional. And that’s what makes her such a joy to read. Her humor is dark, witty, often harsh. She reads the people around her to filth in her head every second of every day, but only to avoid facing her own self-disgust.

Again, a joy.

She can be a frustrating contradiction, but so are most humans. We stan a flawed protagonist over a boring one.

I only wish this book were longer! Definitely going to be reading more of this author.

The wrap-up: If you like dark humor and writing that unapologetically explores the morbid side of human thoughts, this book is for you.

The rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ /5

I hid my shameful perversions under a facade of prudishness. Of course I did. It’s easy to tell the dirtiest minds—look for the cleanest fingernails.

—Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen
Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

©Scholastic Press

The genre: Dystopian, YA

The gist: Prequel to the Hunger Games series focusing on President Snow’s formative years and the nascent days of the Hunger Games competition.

The background: The Hunger Games trilogy are some of my favorite books to read again and again—I love Suzanne Collins’s writing, worldbuilding, and characters. So I don’t know why I let this prequel sit on my shelf for months before finally diving in. I think it had to do with the mixed reviews I’d heard, and I was postponing being disappointed. I shouldn’t have been worried; reviews are nothing compared to your actual reading experience, and this was a great one.

The tea: I’m just going to come out and say I loved this book.

As a big Hunger Games fan, I thought this was a satisfying tale that did three things very well: It expanded on the history of Panem and the Games, it gave background and nuance to the eventually villainous Coriolanus Snow, and it made thought-provoking connections to the original trilogy.

The only complaint I could have about this book is the lack of action until about halfway through, and maybe some uneven pacing, but I don’t really care that it’s not action-packed.

It reads as more of a character study on Snow, and Collins spends a lot of time showing how he thinks, how he calibrates and adapts, how he works to keep up appearances, how he meticulously measures the consequences of his words and actions, the risk and the reward. We get to see that he’s naturally calculating and ambitious, but he was raised in the Capitol among the calculating, ambitious, and even ruthless. So, was he always destined to become an evil tyrant, or did the Capitol create a monster? It’s a classic nature versus nurture question, and it’s kind of fun to think about.

Beyond painting a clear picture of a young Snow, the book gives more info on the war that started the Hunger Games tradition and hints at how the Games grew from a bleak event that nobody even in the Capitol wanted to watch (the novel is set during the 10th Annual Hunger Games) to the sparkly, reality show phenomenon it became by Katniss’s time. Plus, it elaborates on a few other things from the trilogy that I won’t spoil here.

While I would read anything Collins wrote set in the HG world, she couldn’t have picked a better character to explore. It’s a twist on the typical villain origin story, giving the bad guy a dose of humanity, but ultimately showing that some villains might be just that.

The wrap-up: I’d suggest those who haven’t read The Hunger Games start with the trilogy first, but The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a must-read for HG fans. I know some have been disappointed, but I think if you go into it ready to soak up knowledge of the dystopian world rather than be hit with a cliffhanger every other page, you’ll have a good time reading.

In any case, it got me excited enough to read through the trilogy yet again, this time with a new lens—and a prequel that enriches its source material is a success in my book.

The rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

“People aren’t so bad, really,” she said. “It’s what the world does to them.”

—Suzanne Collins, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes