Ottessa Moshfegh is known to many as the writer who best describes what it is “To be alive when to be alive is terrible”, according the new yorker— and with a cast of characters including hyper-alcoholic divorcees, catatonic orphan party girls, and the clients of what she calls a “disreputable talent agency,” it’s not hard to see why. But there is also another quality that permeates Moshfegh’s writing, and that is desire. Its misanthropes feel so bad precisely because a sense of belonging, meaning and home perpetually eludes them.
In Moshfegh’s new novel, Lapvone (released June 21 by Penguin Press), this singular fusion of nihilism and desire is on full display. LapvoneThe setting of is its fictional titular village, in which a medieval shepherd, a scheming priest, a mystical midwife, and a depraved governor pursue their separate peaces under conditions conducive to anything but.
One balmy afternoon in Pasadena, I sat down with Moshfegh at A World Far From Such Ruin to talk about what drew her to complicit Dark Age villagers — and her fascination with any situation where the quirky and the serious collide.
vogue: How did you choose Lapvona’s setting for the book?
Ottessa Moshfegh: I started the book during lockdown, so I was thinking about humanity in a more global sense, with the feeling that we are so close to our own history. The pandemic made me think: Yeah, we’re in an era now, but we’ve always been in an era. And 1,500 years ago isn’t that long overall. People still had thoughts. They still had desire and hunger, ambition, confusion and loss.
How did the village itself become visible?
I’m always looking for the best house to live in while writing a book, and Lapvona kind of sketched itself out in my mind. It was definitely influenced by being stuck in this house.
Your home is so unique.
Well, a lot of it is built from recycled materials, some of which came from a church. This bell is a mission bell, I think from Santa Barbara. It took the guy who built this house for himself 20 years. It was his life’s work, and I appreciate it so much. The house is totally imperfect. That’s another thing I love about it – there are things wrong with the design that are really annoying. It’s like a person. So with the book, I wanted to be close to the earth and feel like Lapvona was a place that I could connect with the earth.