Ottessa Moshfegh’s latest novel is set in the fictional eastern European village of Lapvona, sometime in the Middle Ages. Lapvona is dirty, highly religious and poverty stricken. It is presided over by a Trumpian lord, Villam, who only cares about what joke he can make next. Villam is unwilling or unable to notice when his subjects are starving and thirsty whilst he hoards water in the grounds of his palace. In a departure from Moshfegh’s usual close first-person narration, Lapvona moves through a large cast of characters. Other figures include Marek, a disabled boy who is abused by his religious father, Father Barnabas the corrupt town priest, and Ina, a sometime apothecary and witch.
Moshfegh revisits some of the themes of her early work, the various ways that wealth corrupts, visceral depictions of the body, strange and unlikeable narrators. But the medieval setting is a striking departure from her earlier work and this new direction pays off in spades. Lapvona is a fictional setting but Moshfegh’s detailed portrayal of life for the inhabitants of Lapvona feels extremely vivid. The characters, while unsympathetic, are universally compelling. The gory elements are expertly deployed, as beautifully created as they are horrifying. The content is not for the faint of heart, (there is blood, guts, and even cannibalism) but I highly recommend this fantastically well-written novel, particularly for fans of Moshfegh’s first novella McGlue.