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Interview: Ottessa Moshfegh dissects her metaphysical suspense novel ‘Death in Her Hands’ with Audible Editor Kat

''What strikes me most about Vesta is how much courage it would take…''
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  • Death in Her Hands
  • ''What strikes me most about Vesta is how much courage it would take…''

Publisher's Summary

"[An] intricate and unsettling new novel.... Death in Her Hands is not a murder mystery, nor is it really a story about self-deception or the perils of escapism. Rather, it's a haunting meditation on the nature and meaning of art." (Kevin Power, The New Yorker)

From one of our most ceaselessly provocative literary talents, a novel of haunting metaphysical suspense about an elderly widow whose life is upturned when she finds an ominous note on a walk in the woods.

While on her daily walk with her dog in a secluded woods, a woman comes across a note, handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground by stones. "Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn't me. Here is her dead body." But there is no dead body. Our narrator is deeply shaken; she has no idea what to make of this. She is new to this area, alone after the death of her husband, and she knows no one.

Becoming obsessed with solving this mystery, our narrator imagines who Magda was and how she met her fate. With very little to go on, she invents a list of murder suspects and possible motives for the crime. Oddly, her suppositions begin to find correspondences in the real world, and with mounting excitement and dread, the fog of mystery starts to fade into menacing certainty. As her investigation widens, strange dissonances accrue, perhaps associated with the darkness in her own past; we must face the prospect that there is either an innocent explanation for all this or a much more sinister one.

A triumphant blend of horror, suspense, and pitch-black comedy, Death in Her Hands asks us to consider how the stories we tell ourselves both reflect the truth and keep us blind to it. Once again, we are in the hands of a narrator whose unreliability is well-earned, and the stakes have never been higher.

©2020 Ottessa Moshfegh (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"Cleverly unraveling, linguistically brilliant, and limning the limits of reality, [Death in Her Hands] will speak to fans of literary psychological suspense." (Booklist)

"An eerie and affecting satire of the detective novel." (Kirkus, starred review)

"No one’s work inspires better discussion than Ottessa Moshfegh’s. It seems that for every person who loves her work, there’s someone who completely disagrees - which is, in my opinion, one of the best things about reading. Her latest is a sinister tale of an elderly widow who finds a distressing note pinned to a tree near her new neighborhood." (BookPage)

Editor's Pick

A mesmerizing study of isolation
"Is there a greater novelist of social distancing than Ottessa Moshfegh? Her protagonists, like the congenitally alienated Eileen and the hibernation-obsessed narrator of My Year of Rest & Relaxation, are creatures of both physical and mental isolation, their fates set by their own singular psyches. Still, nothing prepared me for Vesta Gul, the 72-year-old widow who lives a life of near-total solitude in the woods with her dog, Charlie. When Vesta finds a cryptic note referring to a dead woman named Magda, she sets out to solve the mystery—but her investigative tactics are the strangest I’ve ever encountered. (Though her carefully documented regimen of grocery-store bagels, wine, and quarantine-worthy bodysuits is relatable.) Moshfegh’s ability to spin plot from pure psychological interiority is as mesmerizing as ever in this shiver-inducing twist on the detective novel." —Kat J., Audible Editor

What listeners say about Death in Her Hands

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Omg get ON with it

I was intrigued by the description of this book and the rave reviews. It’s like listening to a doddering, elderly relative rattle on about N O T H I N G. Such an interesting premise...I’m still listening, and maybe it’ll get better. But I think I’ve already figured it out. Thus far, though: meh

8 people found this helpful

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Disappointed

I’m a huge fan of “My Year or Rest and Relaxation”. I was so excited to read/listen to this book. No offense to this woman, but the shaky voice is beyond annoying. I love Ottessa Moshfegh’s work, but this is pretty bad. I understand what she was going for, but it did not work for me. Looking forward to her next book!

3 people found this helpful

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Readers

please hire readers who just read - its off-putting to be spoken down to like I'm a child.

3 people found this helpful

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overrated

WAY overrated!! Just idiotic free association, wandering babble. Who reviewed this so highly. Time wasted.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Em
  • 06-26-20

Misleading summary

I’m not sure who wrote the publisher summary but it would appear they haven’t read the book.

2 people found this helpful

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it is a loser for me

this is not my type of book. but I gave it a try. thought it was a story about a mystery.

2 people found this helpful

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Narrator sounded too old

I loved the book but I thought the narration was distracting. I’m 71 and the book is written in the first person of a 72 year old, but the narrator sounded like a little old lady of 90 or so. The writer’s thoughts would have been more clearly conveyed without a voice that sounded like a doddering kook, instead of a realistic person whose mind was becoming confused. I had to put that aside in my mind to relate to the character.

1 person found this helpful

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Not like her other books

I adore Ottessa’s books. However, “Death in Her Hands” was repetitive and slow moving. Most of the “action” took place in the last two chapters as if Ottessa realized story lines needed to be tied up. I had high hopes for “Death in Her Hands.”

1 person found this helpful

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Vivid, but meandering

A descent into madness following an unreliable narrator as she navigates fantasies of murder mystery as a way to address her anger toward her abusive late husband. A rich character study, but a bit of a slog. Felt cartoonish in its portrayal of mental illness.

1 person found this helpful

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Sooooo good!

Outstanding writer puts out another great book. And great performance too. Read all of her!

1 person found this helpful