- 05 Jul 22
Hard Times. Hard Work.
Prices are skyrocketing, twenty quid puts a mere spit of petrol in the car, and it’s not even safe to breath the air around you. Still, at least we weren’t knocking around in the dark ages. Moshfegh’s novel drops you right in it, up to your oksters in the mud and the blood and several other bodily fluids.
Nothing if not prolific - Lapvona is her fourth novel alongside a short story collection, a couple of novellas, and frequent contributions to such august periodicals as Granta and The Paris Review Moshfegh is probably best known for either her 2015 debut Eileen, which won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and was shortlisted for the Booker with a movie currently in production, or 2018's My Year Of Rest And Relaxation. That novel had a narrator who was determined to sleep for a year in a self-medicated haze in order to get her life back on track in pre 9/11 New York. Well-received, what was surely some sort of dig at America's addiction to prescription medication and also a celebration of the power of art prompted Jia Tolentino to write in The New Yorker that "Moshfegh is easily the most interesting contemporary American writer on the subject of being alive when being alive feels terrible."
Which brings us neatly up to Lapvona where being alive, for most of the characters at least, seems absolutely, pointlessly awful. The protagonist in the previously mentioned book may have wanted to snooze it all away, despite being able to live on Manhattan's Upper East Side without a job thanks to an inheritance and unemployment benefits, but things could have been so much worse.
Marek is the son of the violent shepherd Jude. He’s a simple soul who kisses a captured bandit and welcomes his father’s beatings as blood is the wine of the spirit and slaps lead to a welcome night of repentance. Given Jude's belief that beauty is the devil's shade, chances are that could he read he'd most likely enjoy this extremely bleak novel. Ina is the local wet nurse who helped raise Marek, but the nursing didn’t stop when he was a child and he’s not the only one who avails of this service. When her breasts are full, her blindness – brought on by plague, of course – eases. She tried to help Marek’s mother abort - she'd been impregnated by her bandit brother, before being captured in the woods by Jude - which explains the young man's deformity.
Add to this odd and unsettling mix the seriously unhinged local lord Villiam, who uses the beliefs on those beneath him to keep them there. His son Jacob's particularly sticky end moves along one strand of what might possibly be referred to as 'the plot'. Naturally, there's also a dodgy priest in an eyebrow-raising, criss-crossing narrative driven by superstition.
Onanism, cannibalism, rape, incest, a horse with no eyes, famine, mud eating, a puked toe, the second coming; Lapvona has got it all, if that’s your bag, but it doesn't seem to be mine. I had to close the covers a few times, mutter an exasperated 'Ah, Jaysus...' and go look out the window at some flowers to recalibrate. A better story might have helped me plough through all that unpleasantness. I'm no Game Of Thrones expert but at least it had various machinations - and a few dragons - to keep you watching/reading past the jagged penectomies.
Perhaps there's some sort of message or comment here about humanity's primal urges or our continued adherence to superstition, but you'll have to clean off an awful lot of shit and semen and blood to get at it. Mad as a box of frogs. Approach with caution.