25 June 2021

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

The cover of this book always caught my eye whenever I was shopping ... it reminds me of that Soviet movie Stalker or something by David Lynch. One of my favourite reads of 2021 so far was Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation. I had never read any of Moshfegh's work, but I quickly picked up her two other books and started with Death in Her Hands

Death in Her Hands is a fairly short read (coming in at under 300 pages) and was published quite recently (June 2020). The book follows a 70-year-old widow named Vesta and her time living alone with her dog in a small cabin in the New England area. The premise is so, so simple, and hooked me into reading it immediately: while Vesta is out for a walk in the woods she comes across a note that reads "Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn't me. Here is her dead body."

There is no dead body next to the note, but that doesn't stop Vesta from obsessing over Magda and what happened to her:

If not a prank, the note could have been the beginning of a story tossed out as a false start, a bad opening. I could understand the hesitation. 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. Was futility a subject worthy of exploration? The note certainly didn't promise a happy ending." 

Ottessa Moshfegh

This book definitely doesn't read like a detective story, and you certainly aren't going to get any answers at the end. I don't need a story or mystery to be clearly laid out for me, but I ended up being slightly disappointed with Death in Her Hands. It felt more like a mental exercise or wild goose chase, but without any larger purpose/meaning. 

If I had to compare it to something else I've recently read, it would be I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid - which I LOVED. Reid's book is eccentric, confusing, scary, and experimental, but also sticks its landing in a way Death in Her Hands isn't able to do. 

I think one disservice is that I loved My Year of Rest and Relaxation so much that I was bound to be disappointed. Still, I will buy every single book Moshfegh puts out, and can't wait to read Eileen

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