Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
I’ve been thinking about the last feedback I received from my supervisor, Kate Duignan. One thing Kate said is that I set things up and then pull away from them. The example she gave was the flirting/sexual tension between my protagonist Honor and the farmer, Muck.
Earlier this year, Clare Moleta shared with our classes an early draft of her new work and a second, vastly different draft. The early draft showed a young woman working as a domestic cleaner who said no when asked by a client to drive for him in his car. In the second draft, the woman drives the car. Clare explained that the second draft came from her thinking harder about what her protagonist would do in the situation rather than what she – Clare – would do. Kate reminded me of this.
I think what it’s come down to is me pulling away from being brave – even though being brave was one of my key goals this year!
After that feedback, I’ve been writing scenes that include characters cheating and internet-based sexual harm. Each time I get to a point where I’m stuck about what to write, I ask myself: what’s the worst thing the characters might do? And then write that. It’s terrifying! I don’t feel experienced enough to write it. I have no idea how things will resolve. But it’s also exhilarating. I’m reminding myself that my characters aren’t me and my work isn’t memoir. I want to tell the best story I can. In no way do I want to be boring!
Whenever I feel fear or doubt about what I’m writing, I’m going back to Eileen. What happens in this book is gross, hideous, awful, and yet the book is utterly compelling reading. I keep telling myself that you’d have to be very brave to write a book like Eileen. I think what’s holding me back is a fear of judgement. But who really cares? And risks can result in brilliance – like Eileen. I might not be in the brilliance camp but I’m trying to feel the fear and write it anyway. Maybe some of what I write will be a mistake, but this feels like a good year to learn.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christy Menzies has completed her MA at Te Pūtahu Tuhi Auaha o te Ao, IIML. Her project, a novel called The Saboteurs, explores love, language, contemporary misogyny and the allure (and fickleness) of an audience.