I think Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh must have originally come into my orbit off of a Goodreads recommendation list. The striking image of a dead lamb on the cover caught my eye, and buzzwords like “macabre” and “grotesque” pulled me in. The publisher’s description seemed like it would be up my alley as well – I’m generally a fan of books that explore religion, faith, and climate catastrophe.
The plot follows a year in the fictional medieval village of Lapvona, in particular following Marek, the sheepherder’s son. Marek is described as disfigured and delusional, and he is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually abused in some way by pretty much everyone he comes in contact with. Other characters include Marek’s father, the village wetnurse/witch Ina, and Villiam, the lord of the village. The book opens with a graphic description of a bandit’s execution, and violence, famine, drought, and general catastrophe seems to follow Marek and the other villagers over the course of the year.
This is the strangest book I’ve read in a while. I think that it is overall well-written. It seems that Moshfegh’s goal was to tell a story inhabited entirely by thoroughly unsympathetic characters treating each other terribly while also suffering through extraordinarily bad luck – and she succeeded! It was certainly imaginative and vividly rendered. The imagery will stick with me for a while.
Overall, I can’t recommend this book – while it was well-written, I didn’t enjoy the process of reading it. I don’t think it was written to be enjoyed, exactly. There are aspects of the book to be admired (really, I was physically cringing through some passages, which speaks to the author’s descriptive abilities). Also, I think that every content warning imaginable probably applies to Lapvona, so if you know you have triggers I definitely recommend looking up the plot before reading. Dark,twisted plot and unrelatable characters aren’t necessarily a deal-breaker for me, but in Lapvona’s case the bleakness was just too unrelenting to be entertaining, and without any redeeming characters or arcs to latch onto I found myself having to force myself to finish the book.
Bingo Square: New, because Lapvona was published in June 2022