Lapvona is the fifth book release by the disturbingly talented American author Ottessa Moshfegh, and boy is this installment fucked up in all the best ways. The book is set in the fictional medieval town of Lapvona, and rotates fluidly between an entire cast of the town’s horrible characters as they whip themselves in the name of God, hang bandits, suck the milk from baby sheep teats, and otherwise pursue sin in glorious abandon, as only the wild west of the medieval period can accommodate.
This review’s author also has an anomalously absurd fixation with cannibalism, and I’m pleased to say that this book features some good old fashioned human-eating, too. In fact, it contains some of the most horrifically awesome cannibalism scenes I’ve ever read.
Much of the power of this novel derives from the way Moshfegh very seriously explores humanity’s absurd relationship with Christianity during this time period. She exposes the hypocrisies of the church and its priests when they are held accountable to no one, the inadequacies of what God can provide to you when you’re a poor, starving, illiterate, and abused peasant living in a town ruled by a greedy tyrant, and the absurdity of believing you’re destined for Heaven when you’re a disgusting human being who’s committed rape, murder, arson, cannibalism, child abuse, misogyny, racism, or all of the above at once.
Everyone in the town, every single character, even the sheep-herder child protagonist, is a horrible person; evil acts are considered benevolent; relationships are opportunities to take advantage, abuse, or insult, all in the glorious name of God.
I’ve read all of Moshfegh's work (all her novels, her short story collection, and her novella), and she pretty much always deep dives into the twisted psyches of disturbed characters (and humanity itself), but in none of her works has she tackled the twisted perspectives of an entire village, and in an environment none other than the most non-retraining period ever:
No phones. No internet. Backwards morality.
Moshfegh was completely free to tackle all the fucked up shit her other book periods disallowed her from attempting, and she absolutely, as always, dove to the most extreme degree she could.
This is certainly her most ambitious and deeply-researched project, and I would argue is not only her most entertaining, but her most successful, too. You can feel the depth of her knowledge about Christianity, in all its ugly truths and half-truths and lies, as she’s distilled and translated it into a piece of very sharp fiction.
It’s an utter razor-point of a book, from the prose, the characters, and the plot, to the religious excavations, and the absurdity and horror, a book that carries the reader on a knife point as it stabs deeply and beautifully into the guts of one of humankind's most fucked-up periods, and it's just so pleasurable to explore all the honest macabre that her stab contains.
It’s certainly a book worth a read—if you have the stomach for it.