'This is a story about what might happen when a woman takes charge... A glorious visceral mystery' The Times
While on her daily walk with her dog in the woods near her home, Vesta comes across a chilling handwritten note. Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn't me. Here is her dead body.
Shaky even on her best days, Vesta is also alone, and new to the area, having moved here after the death of her husband. Her brooding about the note grows quickly into a full-blown obsession: who was Magda and how did she meet her fate?
From the Booker-shortlisted author of Eileen comes this razor-sharp, chilling and darkly hilarious novel about the stories we tell ourselves and how we strive to obscure the truth.
PRAISE FOR DEATH IN HER HANDS:
'Routinely hailed as one of the most exciting young American authors working today' Guardian
'A new kind of murder mystery' New Yorker
'Dark, devious' Observer
'A fine line between shocking realism and the absurd' New Statesman
'A brilliant off-kilter detective story' Evening Standard
'A beautiful novel' Sunday Times
Moshfegh's disorienting latest (after My Year of Rest and Relaxation) sends up the detective genre with mixed results. Vesta Gul is an elderly woman who has moved to an isolated cabin on a lake after her husband's death with only her dog, Charlie, to keep her company. Vesta finds a note in the woods that reads "Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn't me. Here is her dead body." But there's no body to be found. While Vesta does do some detective work (such as using Ask Jeeves to search "How does one solve a mystery?"), mainly her mind imagines Magda's life, to the point where the people Magda knew bleed into Vesta's own life. Moshfegh clearly revels in fooling with mystery conventions, but the narrative becomes so unreliable that it almost seems random, and readers may wish for more to grasp onto, or for some sort of consequence. There's an intriguing idea at the center of this about how the mind can spin stories in order to stay alive, but the novel lacks the devious, provocative fun of Moshfegh's other work, and is messy enough to make readers wonder what exactly to make of it.
Not a murder mystery
American. Now late thirties. Born in Boston to a Croatian mother and an Iranian Jewish father, both teachers at the New England Conservatory of Music. MA from Barnard. MFA from Brown. Her stories have been published in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and Granta, and have earned her a Pushcart Prize, an O. Henry Award, the Plimpton Discovery Prize, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her first book, McGlue, a novella, won the Fence Modern Prize in Prose and the Believer Book Award. Her first novel Eileen (2015) won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction and was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize in 2016. It should have won the Booker IMHO. (In case you were wondering, The Sellout by Paul Beatty did. It's not PC to say so, but I'm not a fan of that one). Her second novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018) was a New York Times bestseller. She's also published a short story collection called Homesick for Another World (2017). To say this, her third novel, was highly anticipated in literary circles is the definition of understatement.
A widowed 72-year-old woman named Vesta Gul moves to an isolated lakeside cottage in New England following the death of her husband from cancer. Vesta's of Croatian lineage, and her husband was German, which allegedly explains the funny name except that Gul is Turkish. Make of that what you will. Ms Moshfegh's speciality is idiosyncratic loners. Vesta fits the bill to a tee. Her only companion is a dog named Charlie. She has a car she uses to shop for groceries once a week, but doesn't have a phone, not even a landline. As the harsh New England winter begins to thaw, Vesta and Charlie are out for a walk in the woods, as is their wont, when she stumbles upon a note secured to the ground by stones at each corner. In neat blue ballpoint script, the unnamed author announces the death of some named Magda, but says he didn't do it. The end. There's no sign of a body. Vesta takes the note home, and doesn't show it to police. Instead, she speculates at considerable length about the theoretical dead girl, constructing an elaborate life for her and the unknown killer. She undertakes her own somewhat haphazard investigation, which fails to reveal anything except Vesta is a loony. It's fair to say there are one or two other weirdos about in the area as well. The dog dies. That's about it. If you're expecting a mystery thriller based on the blurb, prepare to be disappointed.
First person that's not quite stream of consciousness but you can see it from there.
Well, there's Vesta. That's about it really. Ms Moshfegh paints a vivid portrait, if not a particularly heartwarming one.
Ms Moshfegh is a rare talent, if an acquired taste. She writes the hell out of this. The term muscular prose has been bandied about, which always evokes Hemingway for me. Hemingway she's not, thank the Lord.
My rating is wholly due to the quality of the writing. Although I'm not always sure what Ms M is getting at, I can't help but admire the way she gets there.