Andrew Casey / Courtesy of Penguin Random House
Otesa Mishvig has never killed anyone. And she never wants that. Start.
“But for a really long time I felt like I had killed someone,” the author said in an interview. “And I had nightmares about feeling guilty about killing someone.”
This is the product of the idea that will become her latest novel, lapvona. It is set in a fictional medieval European village, where violence is rife and resources are scarce (unless, of course, you are among the ruling class).
The book is the latest entry in Mschwig’s current rise to literary fame. Over the course of the pandemic her second novel, A year of rest and relaxation, about a woman who tried to drug herself to sleep for an entire year, was a hit—particularly among writers on TikTok. Hollywood adaptation of relaxation Currently in work, but first is a film adaptation of her first novel, Eileen, on the off. But that didn’t stop her from delving deeper into what has become something of a signature style – writing in beautiful detail about the disgusting and disgusting. Which, for her, is just a way to write about being alive while knowing you’re going to die.
“There are two bags I carry,” she said in her mind. In one briefcase her thoughts of death as she sees it through the idea of God, light and infinite mystery. The other is her contemplation of death as seen through corpses, entrails, and bodies.
I think after writing lapvonaAnd the bag full of corpses is a little lighter.”
The novel begins with a boy named Marek who kills another boy – Prince of Lapvona. Somehow, Marek ends up taking his victim’s place in the royal family. That was the central question – how do you live as a substitute for someone who died? – which Mushfig kept thinking about. She links the idea to her brother, who died of an overdose in 2017.
“When he left, a part of me went back to where it was,” she said. “As if I was sharing a bubble and then half of it disappeared. And so the bubble around me broke off.”
lapvona Heavy on the issues of guilt, religion and oppression. She is also obsessed with the body. What they are, and all the different juices they secrete, and what they taste, feel, and smell like. Given that we are talking about medieval peasants, the answer, in general, is “not great.” One character, Ina, is hundreds of years old and served as the village’s wet nurse. In an early paragraph, young Marek (whose mother has died) goes to visit her after being beaten by his father. He cuddles beside her, finding relief in some old habits.
He felt at home. He knew every inch of Ina’s body by heart: her face like a dried apple, her large hanging ears, her pale and soft scalp, and the firm, white bulge of hair on top. He knew her breasts, of course, and her arms, and her wrinkled stomach. Inna’s pubic hair was covered in white hair as fine as fine grass. She looked like an angel to Marek.
The passage goes on to describe an almost sexual charge between them. It’s sickening, fluffy, and weird, but it’s also kind of tender and sweet.
“I am pointing the line between what is sensual and what is sexual,” said Mushfiq. “My niece can hold my hand and feel so cute and cuddly. A stranger can hold my hand and I can feel…ew, don’t touch me.”
There are many sucking in lapvona. Too much, for too many book reviewers. “It’s too violent to be funny, and too ridiculous to mean anything else,” Read one review from the New York Times. He wrote “there is no enlightenment in these pages” NPR’s Maureen Corrigan. Andrea Long-Chu privately wrote: “Despite her technical mastery, something still happened deeply in Moschvig’s novels.” Brutal removal of Vulture.
Mshvig, who does not generally read reviews of her work, was alarmed by the response. “It seemed to me that the book was a kind of occasion for people to be creative in criticizing it,” she said. “It seems to inspire a lot of bad creative reviews. And I think that made me feel really used.”
But you don’t inspire haters unless you build a fan base. who has a shove. Scroll through the tags next to Moshfegh on TikTok and you’ll find that you’ll come across a certain type of fan who uses Moshfegh as a way to signify a cynical breakup…maybe not that ironic and not all that separate.
Eleanor Stern, the writer who makes TikToks about books and literary criticism. “I think it is immediately seen as subversion of norms of femininity and intellect as a kind of experience of female bonding within the group.”
At the heart of everything Mosfhegh stands for on TikTok is her book A year of rest and relaxation. The unnamed narrator of this book is aloof and selfish, trying to self-medicate in a dazed state for an entire year. She is a charismatic figure for those who have been driven into nihilism by colossal global changes beyond their control.
“The ‘dysfunctional woman’ idea really has a moment in the novel now, and I feel it is in large part because of her catalog of work,” said Rachel Fauci. She’s a fan of the 26-year-old Moshfegh who recently attended a book event for the author in Brooklyn. In a later interview, she told me, “There is something about basking in one’s own bleakness, one’s own boredom, and one’s helplessness in the face of a world that seems to be trying to wake you up, as I think a lot of guys really relate to… and it’s no secret that teenage girls are responsible for Make everything great.”
Exactly for this Writes It’s great, though, that you had to act with caution about using cultural products as leverage. Stern said, but not anymore.
“The TikTok literary brand is a really candid version of that, where you can go right out and say you’re reading something because you want to be seen as the kind of person who’s reading that book.”
Mushfiq is grateful to her fans, but from afar. She’s the type of person who can’t look at social media or else you’ll start obsessing. But to become this sign of coldness, detachment, or rebellion does not sit comfortably with her. It makes her feel weak. Should you hear from people like me that people are talking about?
“It’s not satisfying,” she said. “If I’m really going to become an ‘icon’, that’s a huge responsibility. And it looks like it’s more about my photos than it really is. And then, UghI don’t want to worry about how I look in this new way.”
I made a talk GQ Profile of Brad Pitt that I wrote. In the article, they hang out at his house and talk about art and poetry. He offers her some mint nicotine and brings her a bottle of water. Here was this guy who exists for many other people as an idea of ”celebrity”. And here I watched this model as a weak human, cutting off Shafiq’s preconceived notions of him. She said it was scary for her to watch someone carry that.
She said, “I don’t want to be famous.” “I’m sure there are people who were made for it. But those people, I don’t understand them.”