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Lapvona: A Novel (Paperback)
What would it be like if Ottessa Moshfegh wrote an A24 film? Pick this book up and you might have an idea.
Lapvona is set in medieval times – a setting we don’t see very often these days, but one that works for Moshfegh, given the grotesque nature of that time and her tendency to lean into all things gross and unsettling. I would be remiss if I didn’t offer some trigger warnings. There are multiple depictions of sexual assault, incest, and very detailed descriptions of gore, so please read at your own discretion.
Moshfegh begins by introducing us to a 13-year-old boy named Marek, an awkward, gawky, redhead with declining self-esteem due to the abuse he endures from his father, Jude, and his “friend” Jacob who is the son of the lord of Lapvona, Villiam (not to be confused with villain, though he is somewhat of one).
Marek’s mother, who he is told died in childbirth, looms heavy on Marek’s mind as he desperately seeks out maternal love. As a baby, he nursed off the village’s designated wet nurse, Ina, and although he’s now grown up, Marek continues to find comfort in her breasts, despite her inability to produce milk in her old age.
When an accident occurs that changes the course of Marek’s life (as well as many other characters’) the book shifts into a whiplash induced spiral that blurs the line between wealth and poverty, explores the classic debate of nature vs. nurture (spoiler alert: we need both), and paints a colorful picture of the complexity of family – all while shining a light on the way religion can be used as a form of manipulation.
Lapvona reads as a very dark and disturbing fairy tale chock full of eccentric characters – none that you will like, but isn’t that how her books usually go?
I’ve now read all Moshfegh’s books, and I will be sitting here, patiently (maybe not patiently), waiting to see what she cooks up next!
—Chel, Longfellow Books
July 2022 Indie Next List
“Lapvona is a truly marvelous and original creation that walks the iconic Moshfegh line of stomach-churning and profound. This book has its underbelly exposed and its eyes to the heavens.”
— Ellie Eaton, Busboys and Poets, Washington, DC
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, in a spellbinding novel that represents Ottessa Moshfegh’s most exciting leap yet
Little Marek, the abused and delusional son of the village shepherd, believes his mother died giving birth to him. One of Marek’s few consolations is his enduring bond with the blind village midwife, Ina, who suckled him when he was a baby. For some people, Ina’s ability to receive transmissions of sacred knowledge from the natural world is a godsend. For others, Ina’s home in the woods is a godless place.
The people’s desperate need to believe that there are powers that be who have their best interests at heart is put to a cruel test by their depraved lord and governor, especially in this year of record drought and famine. But when fate brings Marek into violent proximity to the lord’s family, new and occult forces arise to upset the old order. By year’s end, the veil between blindness and sight, life and death, and the natural world and the spirit world will prove to be very thin indeed.
About the Author
Ottessa Moshfegh is a fiction writer from New England. Eileen, her first novel, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction. My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Death in Her Hands, her second and third novels, were New York Times bestsellers. She is also the author of the short story collection Homesick for Another World and a novella, McGlue. She lives in Southern California.
One of "USA Today’s Best Summer Books"
One of The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2022
“The disturbing intensity of the novel hearkens to Moshfegh’s acclaimed McGlue and Eileen, but this story feels far more riotous, debauched and voracious.” —Washington Post
“Lapvona, is hilarious, poignant, controlled, a little nihilistic . . . Moshfegh is sui generis, head and shoulders above most of her peers . . . Moshfegh’s fictions are up to much more. They flirt with nihilism but are elegantly constructed. On the content level, they are crude, but on the aesthetic level, they are refined. The tension caused by this, the friction, is what’s special about them. It is the source of their dark sparkle.” —Oprah Daily
“What impresses here is not so much Moshfegh’s abilities with character or narrative, or even her language . . . 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.” —The Guardian
“The edgy novelist’s new book imagines a wholly realistic medieval village rife with plagues and schemes and dastardly characters. She has crafted a trenchant allegory of life in these United States over the past several years, not coincidentally also filled with plagues and schemes and dastardly leaders. Moshfegh makes the same old story new by setting it in the past, wielding her pen like an Arcimboldian brush to sketch in the mechanics of corruption.” —Los Angeles Times
“The most addictive part of Lapvona is the same thing that draws readers to her other works: how she renders psychological portraits of characters that reflect our own repugnance, and therefore our humanity . . . It’s an exercise that’s compassionate as it is tactful, one in the tradition of Flannery O’Connor or Katherine Dunn, a rearranging of the world so that everyone who's not a freak is the freak . . . She’s always been good about writing about the monstrosity within all of us, and making it normal, even making it kind of fun.” —Nylon
“Lapvona tells the story of a shepherd’s son who comes fatally close to the rulers of a medieval fiefdom. Moshfegh, following up on her acclaimed My Year of Rest and Relaxation continues to plumb entitlement and class; here, she adds magic and revenge.” —Chicago Tribune
“Lapvona is a witty, vicious novel, frothing at the mouth at the opportunity to indict all the worst habits and orientations of our contemporary. . . . Moshfegh is one of our most thrilling chroniclers of the abject—she is a delighted documentarian of all the excrescences and defilements of the body which force us to reckon with our inevitable decay, or what the French philosopher Julia Kristeva might term our future-deadness. Perhaps the great evolution at hand in Moshfegh’s ongoing corpus is the fact of Lapvona’s rather full-throated politicism. This is at heart a fable of haves and have nots, of the ways violent psychologies and apparatuses of exploitation—of the poor, of resources, of women’s bodies, of the land and earth itself—constitute a significant stratum, if not the very bedrock, of the human condition.” —The Observer
“Moshfegh has proven herself to be one of the most immaculate crafters of disturbed, unreliable first-person narrators . . . . Moshfegh’s voice is part Dostoevsky, part Poe, and entirely her own . . . If anybody would be apt to get into the weird head space of our current moment it’s Moshfegh.” —The Millions
“The author of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, EW's pick for the best book of 2018, turns her inimitable lens to a medieval fiefdom ruled by deeply tribal ideas of class, family, and faith. The result reads like a cracked fairy tale, both familiar and fantastically strange.” —Entertainment Weekly, "16 novels we're excited for this summer"
“Vividly brutal and low-key fantastical new historical novel . . . Lapvona is a sardonic multi-perspective exploration of a society ruled by barbarity, ignorance, corruption, and religion.” —Philadelphia Inquirer’s Summer Preview
“You won’t want to put down Lapvona, a medieval fantasy that feels like a fairy tale adapted by Margaret Atwood or Ursula K. LeGuin.” —Barnes & Nobles, “Our Most Anticipated New Book Releases of June 2022”
“Delightfully weird and full of the richly painted characters and captivating story that makes Moshfegh a master of her craft, this historical fiction throws readers back into Medieval times so completely, you can smell the sheep dung. You'll meet a motherless shepherd, a sadistic lord, a wet nurse with occult powers and a priest whose own faith is tested by devastating famine and drought.” —Good Housekeeping, “The 40 Best New Books of 2022 (So Far) That You Won't Be Able to Put Down”
“Ottessa Moshfegh brings her trademark brutality to the Middle Ages in this allegorical pandemic novel. . . . interrogating the role faith plays in social and environmental abuses of power.” —Adam Morgan, The Scientific American
“No one is quite who he first seems in the latest wicked tale from macabre master Moshfegh . . . Sculpting an eerily canny fabular world of contrasts and evil, cartoonish cruelty, in her signature way, Moshfegh conjures a grotesque, disturbing story of gross inequality and senseless strife.” —Booklist
“At once immensely alien and deeply human, Moshfegh’s latest is a brutal, inventive novel about the ways that stories and the act of storytelling shape us and articulate our world.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Deliriously quirky medieval tale . . . Moshfegh brings her trademark fascination with the grotesque to depictions of the pandemic, inequality, and governmental corruption, making them feel both uncanny and all too familiar. It’s a triumph.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“One of America’s most celebrated authors continues her exploration of what fiction has to offer with a further digression from the standard realist purview and into fantasy. Lapvona promises to chronicle the life of Ina, a blind midwife in a medieval village. Ina’s talent doesn’t stop at childcare, and allows her a special connection with the surrounding natural world. It’s a fascinating premise, and I’m excited to see the yarn Moshfegh is able to weave.” —Chicago Review of Books