Review: Death In Her Hands – Ottessa Moshfegh

Death In Her Hands

Ottessa Moshfegh

Jonathan Cape:

Penguin Random House Australia

ISBN: 9781787332201

 

Description:

From author of Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a novel of haunting metaphysical suspense.

 

While on her daily walk with her dog in the nearby woods, our protagonist comes across a note,

handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground with stones. 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, she is also alone, and new to this area, having moved here from her

long-time home after the death of her husband, and now deeply alarmed. Her brooding about the

note grows quickly into a full-blown obsession, as she explores multiple theories about who Magda

was and how she met her fate. Her suppositions begin to find echoes in the real world, and the fog of

mystery starts to form into a concrete and menacing shape. But is there either a more innocent

explanation for all this, or a much more sinister one – one that strikes closer to home?

In this triumphant blend of horror, suspense, and pitch-black comedy, we must decide whether the

stories we tell ourselves guide us closer to the truth or keep us further from it.

 

Praise for Ottessa Moshfegh:

‘Her stories are depraved, profound, and bleakly, wickedly funny. To read her is to be unsettled.’

Daily Telegraph

‘Viciously funny… Moshfegh’s writing is as lethally efficient as a flick-knife.’

The Times

‘A writer of rare talent and assurance.’

Financial Times

‘Super abundantly talented…Moshfegh’s sentences are piercing and vixenish …

she is always a deep pleasure to read.’

New York Times

Ottessa Moshfegh is the author of McGlue (2014); Eileen, which was awarded the 2016

PEN/Hemingway Award and shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Homesick for Another World (2017);

and My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018), which was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize.

 

 

My View:

Curious, disturbing and uncomfortable. Perhaps all I can do is share my feelings about this book rather than try to give any sort of cohesive review – as I found this book…strange.

 

To begin, I really enjoyed the first part of the book – I enjoyed meeting the protagonist Hesta, hearing Hesta’s perspective of her life and what is happening around her in a stream of consciousness style of ramblings. But after while I felt like I could skip whole pages and not miss anything… it is a short read, I did continue on, waiting for the “gothic” tones or comedy to make themselves known. If they were there, I missed them (maybe in those pages I skipped) 😊

 

I read on, the drama and the tension build as Vesta spiralled between revealing moments of clarity as she reflected on her marriage and life, to ever increasing moments of paranoia. I finished the book.

 

The ending was unsettling ( no spoilers here) but a strange thing occurred to me as I sat an contemplated what this book meant and how I would attempt to review it (badly), this really was a pretty powerful reflection of life; on expectations of living a good life and what compromises that means, on sanity/insanity,  on aging and loneliness, regrets, anger and of the slow decent into paranoia and or dementia.

 

So… it was powerful, made me feel uncomfortable and did make me think. Did I enjoy reading this? First instinct is to answer no, but upon deeper reflection, perhaps I enjoyed a little of it, its is obvious this author can write well but it did lose my attention part way through; I rarely flick through or by pass entire pages… but in this novel I did. Would I recommend this read…probably not in these times of pandemic where something lighter is more palatable. But if you are looking for a challenge, for depth, for deep, meaningful conversations with the author, perhaps you could give this book a try.

 

 

 

 

 

Post Script: Undying: A Love Story – Michel Faber

Undying

Undying: A Love Story

 Michel Faber

Allen & Unwin

Canongate Books

ISBN: 9781782118541

RRP A$24.99

 

Description:

How can you say goodbye to the love of your life?

 

In Undying Michel Faber honours the memory of his wife, who died after a six-year battle with cancer. Bright, tragic, candid and true, these poems are an exceptional chronicle of what it means to find the love of your life. And what it is like to have to say goodbye.

 

All I can do, in what remains of my brief time,

is mention, to whoever cares to listen,

that a woman once existed, who was kind

and beautiful and brave, and I will not forget

how the world was altered, beyond recognition,

when we met.

 

 

 

My View:

How do you rate someone’s pain and anger and grief?

 

By the way the words touch your soul, by the way your heart aches as you read.

 

This is a an exquisitely personal, intimate study of cancer, dying, grief and the authors love for his now deceased wife; his life companion, his lifelong love…

 

Poignant, angry (justifiably so), yet at times romantic and tender. This is love in real life, in the everyday, in the moment – be it the ugly moments of cancer or the moments the lovers dance and twirl towards each other.

 

Beautifully written, brave and honest. The presentation is stunning

 

Post Script: Between A Wolf and A Dog – Georgia Blain

Between A Wolf and a Dog

Between a Wolf and a Dog

 Georgia Blain

Scribe Publications

ISBN: 9781925321111

 

Description:

Ester is a family therapist with an appointment book that catalogues the anxieties of the middle class: loneliness, relationships, death. She spends her days helping others find happiness, but her own family relationships are tense and frayed. Estranged from both her sister, April, and her ex-husband, Lawrence, Ester wants to fall in love again. Meanwhile, April is struggling through her own directionless life; Lawrence’s reckless past decisions are catching up with him; and Ester and April’s mother, Hilary, is about to make a choice that will profoundly affect them all.

 

Taking place largely over one rainy day in Sydney, and rendered with the evocative and powerful prose Blain is known for, Between a Wolf and a Dog is a celebration of the best in all of us — our capacity to live in the face of ordinary sorrows, and to draw strength from the transformative power of art. Ultimately, it is a joyous tribute to the beauty of being alive.

 

 

My View:

Exquisitely painful, melancholy, reflective, poignant and yet so beautifully written you will not be able to put this book down.

 

Without doubt one of the best book I have read this year!

 

This book should have been depressing but it wasn’t, it was a celebration of life and the joy of the everyday; sitting round the table with your family as a child, holidays with family, kids playing dress ups, cooking together in the kitchen, singing out loud, art… breathing in, breathing out, being in the moment….simple joys, beautiful locations (this author can write!)  This is a celebration of life, family and a peak at complex dynamics that make a family; of the fragility of love, the durability of love and moving on.  Beautiful.

I Just Have to Share

I have just finished reading a remarkable book –  I am in awe of the power of the writing here and I am having trouble doing justice to  my review of this author’s poignant work.  So until I work out how I can say what I feel about this book – believe me when I say – “You must read this.”

Between A Wolf and a Dog

Between a Wolf and a Dog

 Georgia Blain

Scribe Publications

ISBN: 9781925321111

Post Script: A Single Breath- Amanda Apthorpe

A Single Breath

A Single Breath
Amanda Apthorpe
Atlas Productions
ISBN: 9780994182296

Description:
When the first hate letter arrives in the days after her patient, Bonnie’s death, obstetrician Doctor Dana Cavanagh reads it with shaking hands before placing it next to the small news article of the court’s verdict: not guilty.

Hate letters continue to trickle in, but one stands out from the others—a cryptic message with a tiny marble stone, its origin—Kos, Greece, the birthplace of Hippocrates. She had once proudly sworn his oath, “I will give not deadly medicine.”

Accompanied by her sister Madeleine, Dana follows the mystery of the letter to Kos. The arrival of two more letters, and the strange appearances of a woman, beckon her to Italy and England. Despairing for her sanity, Dana persists in her crusade to come to terms with being implicated in the death of another.

 

My View:
Some great analogies and references to mythology surrounding women, women as nurturers, women in nature, as creators, healers, women and giving birth etc mashed up with a little bit of mystery and spiritualism. This book is quite an interesting read but not quite the full on mystery I was expecting. More a book about self-awareness, self-discovery, blame, grief and coming to terms with the circle of life.
Some beautifully written passages and reflections on life/death and birth/re birth.

There is a very feminist tone to this narrative – women as supporters, healers and nurturers reclaiming the medicalization by men of women’s bodies, in particularly the process of birthing.

An interesting read.

Post Script: The Sense Of An Elephant – Marco Missiroli

This is writing with heart and soul filled with quirky characters, secrets and brilliant observations of life.

The Sense of An Elephant

The Sense of an Elephant

Marco Missiroli

Picador

Pan Macmillan Australia

ISBN: 9781447241935

 

 

Description:

Pietro arrives in Milan with an old bicycle and a battered suitcase full of tokens of the past. He takes up a post as concierge in a small apartment building, where it soon becomes apparent he has a deep-seated reason to be there. Living in the palazzo is Luca, a doctor, whose wife Viola carries a secret that could destroy their marriage; the bereaved lawyer Poppi, kind and desperately lonely; and elderly Paola and her damaged son, both looking for impossible love. Right from the start Pietro has a special interest in Luca and his family, and soon he’s using the concierge spare keys to let himself into his apartment while the family is out. Pietro’s story is told in snatches and flashbacks, each prompted by one of the objects and notes he keeps in his suitcase, and gradually we find out what has brought him to be guardian of these lost souls, so late in his life . . .

 

My View:

A memorable narrative filled with what at first appears to be quirky individuals but as you read further you begin to know these characters as individuals with a past that has shaped their present in unique ways; as individuals that are flawed, that are real, lives where love or loneliness has shaped and determined their paths.

The biggest theme and the most moving is the evocative sense of an elephant… elephants ”… take care of the herd without regard to kinship.” (p.65 ) The protagonist Pietro, the keeper of secrets, is charged with taking care of those around him, his community, but he is also determined to protect his own kin; a difficult act to balance.

But this is more than a story about love, themes of death and assisted dying are also woven into this intricate plot; death of a child, death of a lover, a partner…death of aspirations and plans for the future. The sub story of the old man who cares for his son who needs the assistance of tubes and machines to live is heartbreaking. What a wonderful example of love this is.

There are so many memorable moments and observations in this novel but one that will stay with me is this, Luca says to Pietro (p.193) “When my mother was dying she told me she had one single passion in her life. “Papa,” I said to her. ”No,” she said….”It was someone I knew before I was married,” my mother said. “The only good secret in my life.”… ‘I asked my mother how she came to marry my father. She said, “Papa was the love for a lifetime.” So what was the other? “The other was the love of a lifetime.”

Great characters, brilliant observations of love and life and death and an ending that will bring a tear to your eye. Memorable reading.

Post Script: The Ice Twins – S.K. Tremayne

 

The Ice Twins

The Ice Twins

S.K. Tremayne

HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction/Blue Door

ISBN: 9780007459247

 

Description:

One of Sarah’s daughters died. But can she be sure which one? A terrifying psychological thriller that will chill you to the bone.

 

A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives.

 

But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity – that she, in fact, is Lydia – their world comes crashing down once again.

 

As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past – what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died?

 

My View:

This is quite a difficult book to review- I didn’t love it but I did enjoy it. I wasn’t “chilled to the bone,” more intrigued and wanting to understand/know the truth. It was very evocative, somewhat creepy and bleak. So whilst I didn’t embrace this book with a passion I did keep having a film play out in my head of the action as I read. I really can see this as a brilliantly disturbing film. The isolation of the island, the bleak settings, the storm, the hint of apparitions, the feeling of being threatened… it could make a great noir film with its suggestion of violence or potential for violence. Film it in black and white with just a hint of colour in the clothing of the twins….perfect!

 

Post Script: This Is The Life – Alex Shearer

This is the life: “Not the one you had yesterday. Or the one that might not be here tomorrow. Just this one. Here and now.”

This is the Life

This is the Life

Alex Shearer

Harper Collins

BlueDoor

ISBN: 9780007529711

 

Description:

Even when you have received a death sentence, you still have to live…

 

“Life just seems like a big party sometimes, at which we all gradually get edged to the door, and then we are out in the cold. But the party continues without us…”

This is the story of Louis, who never quite fitted in, and of his younger brother who always tagged along.

Two brothers on one final journey together, wading through the stuff that is thicker than water.

Tender-hearted, at times achingly funny, This is the Life is a moving testimony to both the resilience of the human spirit and to the price of strawberries.

 

 

My View:

This is the life: “Not the one you had yesterday. Or the one that might not be here tomorrow. Just this one. Here and now.”

 

Never a more relevant word was spoken – this is the life we have, right now, not tomorrow, or yesterday or…someday. Life is right now and we should be doing our best to live our life fully and be the best we can be. Don’t wait for a life sentence to wake up and see what is happening around you, participate…now.

 

This is a very quirky book written with great insight (some ideas I didn’t really appreciate until after I had finished the book and had time to let the observations settle and permeate my brain) others I silently nodded my head in a agreement as I read, or read out loud to my partner so he too could appreciate the nuances of this narrative. This book resonated with me, I discovered people I knew in this narrative, people who had the same quirks, the same opinions, the same diagnosis – life and for death surround us – but some chose to start dying prematurely, before the sentence has been revealed (and I want to shake them and say “wake up, don’t just exist… you are worth it, eat strawberries if you want to”).

 

Quirky. At times hilarious. Always poignant. Reflective. Inspiring.

 

Post Script: Runaway – Peter May

“I guess life is really about pain, isn’t it? That’s what feeling is. Any feeling. Even good feelings can be painful in their own way. And pain, pure pain is just the most heightened feeling of all.”

Runaway

Runaway

Peter May

Quercus Publishing

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 9781784299828

  

Description:

In 1965, five teenage friends fled Glasgow for London to pursue their dream of musical stardom. Yet before year’s end three returned, and returned damaged. In 2015, a brutal murder forces those three men, now in their sixties, to journey back to London and finally confront the dark truth they have run from for five decades.

 

Runaway is a crime novel covering fifty years of friendships solidified and severed, dreams shared and shattered and passions lit and extinguished; set against the backdrop of two unique and contrasting cities at two unique and contrasting periods of recent history.

 

My View:

A remarkable read! A well-constructed narrative that deals with two time settings, the earlier time frame – the late 1960’s – Glasgow and London and events  that had far reaching implications for all those involved and then the decision to revisit the past; in all its glory, with its downfalls, its sadness, naivety, bleakness and the loves, friendships and hope. 2015 sees the world through aging eyes and rights still have to be made, restitution paid. Crimes have been committed. The scales need to be balanced.

 

The settings are finely drawn. The characters believable, three dimensional and empathetic. I love their mission, and the ending has more than a few twists. This is more than a work of crime fiction, this is more than just a contemporary narrative, and this is more than the sum these elements … so much more. This is a story of life, of death, of adventure, of the potential of youth and the potential of older age and mostly this is the story of enduring friendships. And this is about pain, without pain you have nothing.

 

I loved my first Peter May read and will certainly look for others by this author.

 

Post Script: The Sleepwalker’s Guide To Dancing – Mira Jacob

500 pages of the best contemporary fiction you will read this year and probably next year too.

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

Mira Jacob

Bloomsbury Publishing UK

ISBN: 9781408841150

 

Description:

The story of a family, divided across generations and cultures, wrestling with its future and its past, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is at once magical, mouth-watering and heartbreaking.

 

Of all the family gatherings in her childhood, one stands out in Amina’s memory. It is 1979, in Salem India, when a visit to her grandmother’s house escalates into an explosive encounter, pitching brother against brother, mother against son.

 

In its aftermath, Amina’s father Thomas rushes his family back to their new home in America. And while at first it seems that the intercontinental flight has taken them out of harm’s way, his decision sets off a chain of events that will forever haunt Thomas and his wife Kamala; their intellectually furious son, Akhil and the watchful young Amina.

 

Now, twenty years later, Amina receives a phone call from her mother. Thomas has been acting strangely and Kamala needs her daughter back. Amina returns to the New Mexico of her childhood, where her mother has always filled silences with food, only to discover that getting to the truth is not as easy as going home.

 

Confronted with Thomas’s unwillingness to talk, Kamala’s Born Again convictions, and the suspicion that not everything is what it seems, Amina finds herself at the centre of a mystery so tangled that to make any headway, she has to excavate her family’s painful past. And in doing so she must lay her own ghosts to rest.

 

 

My View:

I hesitated before writing this review. Actually I did more than that, I procrastinated…for weeks. Let me explain; I read this book, I fell in love with the writing, the dialogue, the stories and the family and when I finished this book I didn’t know how I could possibly express my feelings and do justice to this book.

 

Maybe I’ll start with the writing – so realistic, flows, appears effortless, and beckons you to keep turning the pages. The narrative is complex yet reads beautifully and simply. The dialogue is natural, full of humour, full of meaning and spoke to me. The multiple story arcs; of family life, of growing up, of immigration, of life with children, of shedding skins and discovering who we really are and what is really important, of love, of death, tradition, ghosts of the past and the present …so many stories within a story, amazing! Delightful! Engaging! There is something in this novel that anyone can and will relate to.

 

All I can really do is suggest you read this powerful book. I know you will enjoy it. You can thank me later for the recommendation.