“When Marek reached the bottom of the mountain and looked out at the dark pasture, he saw his old home and smelled the stench of death floating on the slow breeze as he walked toward it.”
—Ottessa Moshfegh, Lapvona
Ottessa Moshfegh is one of my favorite living authors. I will read anything by her. Her prose is both straightforward and vivid. It is both ordinary and grotesque. I have previewed two of her novels on this blog in the past: My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Death in Her Hands. Lapvona is her most recent novel, published in 2022.
All of Moshfegh’s writings—at least the ones I have read—are grotesque in some way. But Lapvona wins the prize. At one point, I had to stop reading because I thought I might vomit. As a rule, this doesn’t happen to me while reading books, to literally feel nauseated at the suggestion of something. But then no author is quite like Moshfegh.
Set in the Middle Ages, Lapvona is an allegory about suffering and power. It’s a work of magical realism where nothing is quite real, and yet the parallels to the real world are unmistakable.
So why read a book that is, by all accounts, disgusting and horrific? For one, the writing is superb. But most of all, it’s a story that makes me grateful to live in the time and place in which I live. And it’s a cautionary tale about how bad things can get when the people are left uneducated, and those in power are left unchecked. “The stench of death,” indeed. . . . This is what happens when societies are not prudently maintained.
Does any of this sound vaguely relevant?