From the author of My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Eileen. In a village in a medieval fiefdom buffeted by natural disasters, a motherless shepherd boy finds himself the unlikely pivot of a power struggle that puts all manner of faith to a savage test.
... hilarious, poignant, controlled, a little nihilistic, and often disgusting ... Moshfegh’s work resists being read as an allegory. The novel has the texture of a fable—the characters and scenarios are at times broadly drawn—but contains no lesson ... How historically accurate is any of it? It doesn’t matter. Lapvona is not trying to dazzle you with its verisimilitude. There’s no lavishing on of period-appropriate detail. For the most part, it’s blithely free of the attention to fabrics, furniture, custom, or quotidian life that usually characterize a historical work. There is a valet named Clod, a venal and brainless clergyman named Father Barnabas. Pious servants eat only cabbage. The pointless, unrelenting cruelty seems true to life at the time, but the way everyone talks has the zip of modern speech ... just enough anachronism here to amuse without irritating ... Still, your moment-to-moment enjoyment might depend on the strength of your stomach ... I wondered, as I always do with Moshfegh: Must it be this gross? ... The ending of Lapvona seems designed to shock. Perhaps it will if you’re unfamiliar with Moshfegh’s style or have not paid close attention to the lawless world she’s created in the novel. Either way, the ending is, without a doubt, the book’s most repulsive creation. If you’re like me (soft), you might long for a hint of redemption. You might long for some reassurance that people are not so base, so doomed. But then that’s what’s great about Moshfegh: She doesn’t care what we want.
Ottessa Moshfegh has a glittering intellect and an unquenchable dark turn of mind. Only the latter is on display in Lapvona, her fourth novel. It’s a pungent book but a flat one, narrow in its emotional range, a bleak, meandering and muddy-soled mix of fairy tale and folk horror ... Atrocities pile up. It’s easy to lose the thread ... It’s especially easy for concentration to wander because no one is quite who they seem to be, and because little that occurs has much in the way of resonance. I’m peeking at my notes to write this because it all blurred in my mind ... vigorously if bluntly written. The sentences seem to have been composed in lead type and locked into a letterpress. What’s gone missing is Moshfegh’s destroying wit ... the novel lacks an attitude, a stance toward this material ... No one tattoos the page with food horror quite like Moshfegh ... Moshfegh is one of the most interesting writers alive, but Lapvona is a gloomy, punishing and curiously flavorless banquet.
As I began reading I kept asking myself: 'What’s she up to? What skin has she got in this game?' Three hundred pages later, I still didn’t fully have my answers, though by then I’d realised that the (pseudo) historical setting wrenches us out of history and into a timeless, interior landscape of drives, impulses and cravings ... Lapvona’s grotesque, shameless world shows us not how it used to be, but how it’s always been ... it soon becomes clear that this plot, like the medieval setting, is secondary to the pulsing, quivering tissue of incident and carnality that it facilitates ... Particularly in her morally neutral scenes of physical and sexual humiliation, Moshfegh seems to write from a shady confraternity that includes the Marquis de Sade, Georges Bataille and Angela Carter ... In the past, Moshfegh has trollishly floated the notion that she might be a bit of a hack, but Lapvona confirms that such ploys served the author’s deeper agenda of getting the weird shit in front of a mass audience. What impresses here is not so much Moshfegh’s abilities with character or narrative, or even her language (which excels more in her short stories), as the qualities Lapvona shares with a Francis Bacon painting: depicting in blood-red vitality, without morals or judgment, the human animal in its native chaos.