Ottessa Moshfegh has written a twisted, genre bending detective story Her protagonist Vesta Gul is a 72 year old widow who lives in a remote former girl scout camp with her dog Charlie But mind you, Vesta is no Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher rather, it becomes very clear early on that there is something psychologically wrong with this lonely female narrator who tells us that she found a mysterious slip of paper in the woods with the words scribbled on itHere name was Magda Nobody will ever know who killed her It wasn t me Here is her dead bodyThere is no dead body though, and the suspense of the whole novel relies on the question what really happened, in how far Vesta is delusional, what her delusions point at, and whether Moshfegh has broken the main rule of the murder mystery The detective and the murderer can t be the same person Vesta sets out to investigate what happened to Magda, but her conclusions mainly rely on projection her rambling thoughts, her restless mind and her obsession with the note seem to be driven by her lack of occupation and social contacts She constructs her own suspects and their backstories, gives them names, feels like she recognizes them in people she meets by accident, and we follow her further and further down the rabbit hole As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Vesta s deceased husband of almost four decades, Walter Gul, a German epistemologist with Turkish roots, did not treat her particularly well, and Vesta, who has Croatian roots, still hears his voice telling her what to think and do Now two fun facts 1 Vesta is the name of the Roman goddess of home, hearth, and family, 2 Moshfegh herself is half Croatian Throughout the text, we are trapped inside Vesta s mind, which leads to feelings of claustrophobia although the topic is completely different, the whole narrative experience is not unlike Milkman What fuels the story is Moshfegh s typical disregard for narrative conventions and her playfulnessMystery was an artless gernre, that much was obviousMany of Vesta s thoughts are darkly comic, and her ideas frequently point to wider concepts We have a potential victim called Magda Mary Magdalene and a potential perpetratator called Ghod which might be a reference to, of course, God, or mock deities, or authorities in general, or to Walter or just check out Urban Dictionary then there are two poems in there, one Vesta cannot identify it s W.B Yeats The Second Coming , the famous line Moshfegh does not quote but that applies here beingThings fall apart the center cannot hold, and the other William Blake s The Voice of the Ancient Bard plus lots of other puzzling stuff like childless Vesta s unsettling fixation on questions of abortion So all in all, Death in Her Hands has all the classic ingredients of Moshfegh s fiction, mainly the potential to disturb and challenge readers, and I love her daring, fearless, unusual writing This effort might prove to be quite divisive because the author refuses to leave the self imposed restrictions of her narrative voice, but I think that s also the special appeal of the story There is no outside of Magda, she lives entirely within her misaligned perceptions, and while immersed in this story, so do we, the readers. REVIEW TO COME Oh, the terrible wonders of the mind Death in Her Hands is a dark layered novel that lulls the reader into the crumbling psyche of an incredibly lonely depressed protagonist, desperately trying to free her mind expunge the painful memories that she tries to bury within a labyrinth of half truths alternate history She is a woman powerless over her mind yet dependent on it to conjure a reality she can believe in that she can survive in At length, she reflects on a life of unfulfilled desire mourning her unrealized dreams, her unsatisfied yearnings, her squandered passion Recently widowed, she begins to register the hatred she felt for the deleterious, pompous academic she married, her dissatisfaction with the decades long monotony of life as a housewife may have caused her mind to deteriorate in deeper ways than she realizes For years she had been constructing alternate realities counterlives to combat the constant interia boredom she felt, now, in her old age, her mind is uncontrolled deranged, dangerous deceptive than she knows, being without the mental fortitude to comprehend her own deficiences In this novel, Ottessa Moshfegh returns to the dark, death reek of McGlue, crafting a meta murder mystery cum domestic drama, suffused with slowly built tension, dread fear It is all interiority murk, a story of imagination loosed, delusions, how ideas germinate, sprout become palpable, living things The author explores the imaginative s of senility, of an unwinding mind quite unsurprising if you ve followed her career to this point While this novel wasn t as transcendent a reading experience as the brilliant and perfect My Year of Rest and Relaxation, it is, nonetheless, a highly entertaining complex fifth offering from a writer I will stan forever. 3.5 Initially, I thought Ottessa Moshfegh was toning down her usual style with what seems like a deliberately bland narrative voice Vesta is a widow in her seventies who s recently moved to a lakeside cabin in non specific small town America One morning, while taking her beloved dog Charlie for a walk, she finds a strange note on the ground It reads Her name was Magda Nobody will ever know who killed her It wasn t me Here is her dead body But there is no body While Vesta is instantly obsessed with the mystery , she makes no attempt to find out whether anyone named Magda has been reported missing in the local area Instead, she finds a character profile questionnaire on a webpage titled Top Tips for Mystery Writers , and bases her investigation on that.Vesta s narrative is an infinite scroll feed of her fantasies and imaginings She constructs a whole world around her make believe Magda, including several lovers Most of her interactions with people are imagined, too the voice of her late husband Walter often intrudes on her thoughts Anyone who read My Year of Rest and Relaxation will be unsurprised to meet another character who regards most everyone she encounters with contempt judging their looks, making assumptions about their lives, thinking about how poised and beautiful she is in comparison A Moshfegh protagonist who hates fat people Groundbreaking Only her fictional Magda, whom she sometimes imagines as a daughter, escapes this judgement I deliberately read this directly after Olga Tokarczuk s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead several early reviews have noted the resemblance between the two novels Both have an elderly female protagonist, a dog lover, who lives alone, likes to wander through the woods, and invents nicknames for the people she encounters There are characters of Eastern European origin and even references to the poetry of William Blake I can t say I know what to make of these similarities they seem prominent enough to be intentional, but to what end Perhaps it s just part of Moshfegh s literary trickery, a deliberate attempt to invoke the spectre of plagiarism unoriginality within a novel that is, after all, a closed, self referential loop.There s a reference to The Yellow Wall Paper in here, too, and probably others I missed Vesta made me think about other novels with female protagonists whose imaginations wildly outstrip reality Katie Kitamura s A Separation, Anita Brookner s Undue Influence, Sara Gran s Come Closer Towards the end, the sense of escalating dread and loss of control reminded me strongly of I m Thinking of Ending Things.The blurb calls Death in Her Hands a novel of haunting metaphysical suspense the key word in that sentence is metaphysical This story is not what it seems It s not going where you think it s going What Moshfegh is doing here is very clever The title, for example, is genius it s an inspired choice to lift this particular phrase from the book I d never have guessed what it was actually describing but it s also a clue, a key, and an injoke for the enjoyment of those who have unlocked it The problem is that it takes so long to reach the point where things like this are clear For so much of the book, I was just bored and annoyed by Vesta, wanting to get at the meat of the plot instead of reading page after page of a small minded character s weird fantasies Eventually, I understood that this is exactly the point, which, again, is clever, but not necessarily very pleasurable Making Vesta s account so determinedly dull also blunts its quotability, something I ve always thought of as one of the author s main strengths.But I get the impression that this putting a neat narrative trick above the reader s enjoyment of the story is typically Moshfeghian The joke s on me, I suppose, for taking Vesta s murder mystery at face value It s just hard to love a book when it feels like the whole thing amounts to the author having a laugh at your expense.I think I m destined to come away from Ottessa Moshfegh s books thinking that was really interesting, but I didn t particularly like it As with My Year of Rest and Relaxation, I appreciated it a lot once I had finished it, stepped back, and fully understood what it was aiming for I can see now that all the signs were there from the start, and I can see how rereading it might be a satisfying experience Yet I would never want to reread it Death in Her Hands works as a concept it is frustrating as a novel.I received an advance review copy of Death in Her Hands from the publisher through NetGalley.TinyLetter A Novel Of Haunting Metaphysical Suspense About An Elderly Widow Whose Life Is Upturned When She Finds A Cryptic Note On A Walk In The Woods That Ultimately Makes Her Question Everything About Her New Home While On Her Normal Daily Walk With Her Dog In The Forest Woods, Our Protagonist Comes Across A Note, Handwritten And Carefully Pinned To The Ground With A Frame Of Stones Her Name Was Magda Nobody Will Ever Know Who Killed Her It Wasn T Me Here Is Her Dead Body Our Narrator Is Deeply Shaken She Has No Idea What To Make Of This She Is New To Area, Having Moved Her From Her Longtime Home After The Death Of Her Husband, And She Knows Very Few People And She S A Little Shaky Even On Best Days Her Brooding About This Note Quickly Grows Into A Full Blown Obsession, And She Begins To Devote Herself To Exploring The Possibilities Of Her Conjectures About Who This Woman Was And How She Met Her Fate Her Suppositions Begin To Find Echoes In The Real World, And With Mounting Excitement And Dread, The Fog Of Mystery Starts To Form Into A Concrete And Menacing Shape But As We Follow Her In Her Investigation, Strange Dissonances Start To Accrue, And Our Faith In Her Grip On Reality Weakens, Until Finally, Just As She Seems Be Facing Some Of The Darkness In Her Own Past With Her Late Husband, We Are Forced To Face The Prospect That There Is Either A Innocent Explanation For All This Or A Much Sinister One One That Strikes Closer To HomeA Triumphant Blend Of Horror, Suspense, And Pitch Black Comedy, Death In Her Hands Asks Us To Consider How The Stories We Tell Ourselves Both Guide Us Closer To The Truth And Keep Us At Bay From It Once Again, We Are In The Hands Of A Narrator Whose Unreliability Is Well Earned, Only This Time The Stakes Have Never Been Higher Oy veyI read Eileen years ago and didn t like it, but then I picked up My Year of Rest and Relaxation last year and LOVED it So, I was wary but excited to receive Death in Her Hands as an ARC.I didn t enjoy it, at all It was one long stream of consciousness of an old and lonely lady making up stories and scenarios in her head The premise of the book was great, but it just didn t deliver That ending was the final nail in the coffin for a 1 star review. I was elated to discover we have a new Ottessa novel coming this spring I may have an author crush on her I d read a grocery store list if she wrote it I feel like most of her stories have an essence of other authors Eileen was very Shirley JacksonRest and Relaxation was Chuck PalahniukDeath in Her Hands is a combo of Olga Tokarczuk s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, and the inventive story telling that hearkened from Girl on the Train I could have read another 100 pages if able Galley borrowed from the publisher. A meandering, inane plot that goes nowhere, a pet murder, and one of the most unlikable protagonists I ve ever encountered Moshfegh writes SO beautifully that is seems like it should be impossible for any of her work to have such poor results, yet here we are I loved My Year of Rest and Relaxation It made me think Moshfegh could do no wrong Then I read MGlue and wasn t thrilled with it I was hoping that this book would be on par with Rest and Relaxation, but instead found it to be the worst of the lot It s frustrating, because much like in McGlue, Moshfegh gives us stellar tone and poignant turns of phrase in Death in her Hands But alas, the plot Oh, the plot I wouldn t have minded the slow and meandering pace if the story had gone somewhere satisfying, if the protagonist hadn t been so deeply unlikable, if the whole mess hadn t felt so utterly pointless I don t care for riffing for riffing s sake in novels unless it s exceptionally funny or exceptionally observant, and the endless diatribes populating this book are neither Lots of weirdness for weirdness sake as well, which always feels like an author losing touch with the realization that there s a reader on the other end of things.I hate criticizing Moshfegh because I think she has many gifts as a writer, but this book was a colossal waste of the energy spent reading it I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for a copy of this novel.Ottessa Moshfegh novels all seems quite different to each other and this is no exception While I enjoy Moshfegh s writing style and flew through this book, overall I neither hated it or loved it The novel consists of a rambling stream of consciousness of the unreliable protagonist and her wild imagination I have to admit that I was sort of waiting for this to stop and something concrete to emerge which it didn t quite. It s a rather dark, damning way to begin a story the pronouncement of a mystery whose investigation is futile Nobody will ever know who killed her The story is over just as it s begun The note certainly didn t promise any happy ending So, what s with the synchronicities between this and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead Both feature a reclusive old woman living in the woods give prime significance to a dog riff on the murder mystery genre use Blake albeit in different ways and tackle the oppressions of living under a patriarchy The overt engagement with the Catholic church in Drive manifests as teasing hints in Death Magda, Ghod, Vesta vestments , the town where she lives, Bethsmane, a kind of linguistic mash up of Bethlehem and Gethsemane One big difference, though, is that while I didn t get on at all with Drive Your Plow, I loved this Moshfegh continues to awe with her originality, her cool and controlled writing, her sheer interestingness and if that s not a word, it ought to be Here, she s attentive to reading, having Vesta parse a brief note to infinity and offering up a model of how to read from all angles She also delivers a sly masterclass in how to create characters as we watch Vesta a rich character in her own right create Magda from nothing At the same time, Vesta s own life and personality seep out from behind the smokescreen of plot In another story, Vesta could have been just one of those women who represent a generation who must have been born in the 1950s in Moshfegh s hands, she s also an individual, unique, whose voice may have been muted all her life but who steps alive, now, off the page even as the text itself reminds us that she s a creature of the writer s imagination Did I say this is seductively meta This is less obviously grimy than Eileen, with ostensible plot than My Year of Rest and Relaxation There are flashes of Moshfegh s subversive humour on the now empty urn that held her husband s ashes What would I fill it back up with Dirt from the garden Plant a tulip bulb and the sheer intelligence, both literary and emotional, shines through Marvellous, undoubtedly set to be one of my reads of the year and my book crush on Moshfegh continues Many thanks to Random House Vintage for an ARC via NetGalley.