Ottessa Moshfegh: “I like Christianity. As a writer, it is an amazing religion”

Ottessa Moshfegh: “I like Christianity. As a writer, it is an amazing religion”


The new novel by the author of ‘My year of rest and relaxation’ is a very black version of fairy tales

Ottessa Moshfegh.KATIE JONES / GETTY

The best, perhaps, is to explain Lapvonaof Ottessa Moshfegh (recently edited by Alfaguara), through art. If the new novel by the author of My year of rest and relaxation that The Garden of Earthly Delights of El Bosco already Chagall’s paintings.

One scene is obviously reminiscent of an andalusian dog and some characters seem taken from surreal paintings. Lapvona also looks like Macbeth because it portrays a world of lords, witches and servants, a criminal and magical Middle Ages.

Is art important in your novels? The art of museums.
Going to a museum is overwhelming for me. So inspiring that sometimes I have a hard time. Sometimes I feel an urge to run away and start writing. Something is triggered, the imagination. The comparison with Chagall is fine, of course, although it was not a conscious influence. Do you know what has been the biggest visual inspiration? The Maiden’s Spring, from Bergmann. A book on medieval objects that I found has also been important. It was far more important than any book on medieval history or agriculture he read.
And what conclusion did he come to?
He gave me concreteness. I understood the materiality of these people, I understood that the main thing in his life was religious belief. Faith was a matter of survival.

I’ve seen reviews of Lapvona who focus on the alliance between the priest and the lord, on power relations… But it doesn’t seem to me that this is the novel’s originality.
People take these political readings for granted. Let’s say that it is the easy and correct way to approach a book, but I resist, I find it extremely boring. I avoid as much as possible any book that deals with politics. I believe that this novel is about a community and the individuals who live in it. It deals with how human beings coexist with each other, with nature and with what they consider the force of destiny. Or with God, or whatever you want to call it. And it also talks about loss… It’s a book about the human experience. This is all I can say really.
A phrase stuck with me at the end, when the character of Marek, the protagonist. he takes a baby in his arms and it is said that he feels love but that he does not recognize it as such because he has never felt it.
That is a turning point in the book. Marek feels love as an absolute, a spiritual epiphany, and since he doesn’t know what to do with that feeling, he does something brutal to protect it. From my point of view, it is the most important thing in the book, the emotion.
Pleasure and pain appear explicitly united in the novel. Is it a way of talking about Christian culture?
I grew up in New England. Most of my friends were Jewish but I grew up in a community marked by Christianity. I’m not a Christian but I like Christianity. From a writer’s point of view, it’s an amazing religion. And it seems to me that this relationship between pain and pleasure is in the essence. Guilt, shame, pain… It seems that living is struggling with what you want. I know that it doesn’t happen to everyone, but I understand that it is easy to pervert the sense of pleasure, that it is possible to feel pleasure through pain.
Did you read much Shakespeare for this book?
I don’t think I’ve read Shakespeare since college. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t influence me. I do feel that this novel has something theatrical. Scenario sense, for example.
It’s just that I remembered an essay by Harold Bloom: he said that the best of Shakespeare are the servants, the witches, the drunkards, who put the purest humanity in them.
Who especially understood the dispossessed? I don’t know. It is not so surprising to feel compassion. We all live it, instinctively. The important step is to put those dispossessed to act, let them express their opinion and make decisions.
In our world there are a lot of dark medieval fictions, in the style of Macbeth.
I didn’t know. She didn’t know it was a fashion. What attracts me to the Middle Ages is the memory of the world of the fairies of the tales that always ended in they lived happily ever after. That made me uneasy. I sensed the lie of that happy ending, I sensed that I was being deceived. Later, I learned that the Brothers Grimm wrote many of their fairy tales as horror horror stories and later edited them to make them acceptable to children. It was a tension that stuck with me.
If I were someone close to you, if I were your brother and I read this book about witches and fairies, would I recognize you personally? Will he think this is very Otessa?
Something will find Spirituality, for example. I am able to go through the most painful losses with faith intact. Like Marek, I have a spinal deformity. Like the maid in the book, I have had an eating disorder. Like the witch, I have spent a lot of time in seclusion, isolated. None of those things are foreign to me. They do not define my character nor are they more specific, but they are.

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