"Lapvona" | Reviewed by Carson Mowery
Fans of Ottessa Moshfegh have long known of the author’s skill in crafting the unfathomable, and even the absurd, a practice she implements to the fullest in her newest novel, “Lapvona.”
Against the backdrop of a small village in a medieval fiefdom lives Marek, the abused son of a masochistic shepherd. Marek, whose gruesome physical disfigurements situate him as a social outcast, manages to find connection with Ina, the village midwife widely believed to be a witch, and Jacob, the governor’s son. Following a series of extreme tragedies, Marek finds himself moved out of poverty, after which the details of his life finally begin to unravel.
This novel is primarily character-driven, and its plot only moves as we gain a deeper understanding into the people themselves. Among the cast you’ll find a governor with no character to speak of, a priest who remembers almost nothing from seminary, women whose unconventional choices cause them to be labelled as witches or godless, and villagers who are blindly devoted to the church and the governor.
Using the fiefdom setting, Moshfegh crafts a brilliant allegory comparing the lives once governed under feudalism to those of us currently living under late-stage capitalism. That is, Moshfegh explores the hardships of the working class alongside those who directly exploit laborers and hoard unimaginable wealth.
In many ways, this novel investigates the human spirit, working to determine its precise breaking point. Moshfegh injects his story with philosophical musings, probing the reader to question what happens to the human soul after enduring great, ongoing tragedy.
Among its philosophy, Moshfegh also explores the role of God and religion amidst continued suffering and withholding of social support from a governor who could easily resolve the issues at play. The villagers, all illiterate, have unknowingly devoted themselves to a priest with almost no understanding of scripture, whose teachings center around serving the governor rather than God. Here, the reader is pressed to question, at what point do the two become indistinguishable?
“Lapvona” is, at times, grotesque and provocative in the worst ways, yet I couldn’t stop reading it. Moshfegh’s writing is sharp and intoxicating, leaving you dizzy from needing to know what happens next, while wondering if you can stomach it.
Note: Some may find the graphic descriptions of child and sexual abuse disturbing.