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Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh review – a grim fairytale

Moshfegh’s fiction provides welcome respite from a culture submerged in positivity – but is there more than shock value to her catalogue of perversity in a medieval village? Once a provocation, it is now a commonplace to lament the thinness of likability as an aesthetic criterion. In a forum on the subject in the New Yorker in 2013, Margaret Atwood warned that “the qualities we appreciate in a character are not the same as those we would look for in a college roommate”. Less frequently lamented but perhaps equally perilous are the pitfalls of concentrated unlikability, elevated into an end in itself. Are characters who are defiantly disagreeable for the sake of sheer perversity preferable to their more approachable counterparts? If we shouldn’t read about someone solely because he would make a respectful college roommate, always taking out the trash and tidying the shelves, should we read about someone solely because he would make a bad cohabitant? These are the questions posed by Ottessa Moshfegh’s petulant corpus, which is populated almost uniformly by wastrels and wantons. In My Year of Rest and Relaxation, the protagonist takes designer pharmaceuticals to stay unconscious, while in Eileen she binges on laxatives after every meal and fantasises about patricide. These forays into negativity and repulsion provide welcome respite from a culture otherwise submerged in pep and positivity – but Moshfegh’s latest effort reveals the limitations of an approach that trades less in human drama than in seething shocks, quick to titillate and quick to expire. Continue reading...

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