I knew that a novel by Ottessa Moshfegh wasn’t going to be run of the mill and being a big fan of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, I was excited to start reading Death in her Hands. I think where I was thrown with this book is that it’s described as a murder mystery, but that should be applied in a loose, theoretical way. So I was waiting, waiting for the reveal / event to happen and… it didn’t… in the traditional sense.
That’s not to say it’s not a fantastic read though, it very much is. My advice to you is: start Death in her Hands without that preconception. Just go with the flow and enjoy what Death in her Hands does with the murder mystery story. In its own very unique way.
So what is the story?
Vesta Gul is truly a fascinating character: a woman just coming into her own. 72 years old and recently widowed, moves to an isolated cabin on the edge of a lake to mark this new chapter in her life. She has her dog, Charlie to keep her company. He is just as important a character in the book as anyone else. (This is similar to a book I read a few months ago, The Weekend, where Finn the dog was a key character.)
It all starts when Vesta finds this note in woods while out on a dog walk (they are also the opening sentences):
Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.
Vesta becomes obsessed with Magda. Determined to find out who she is, if she is really dead and, if she is, who killed her. This is where Vesta takes an unorthodox approach. Vesta is creating her story within this story, solving a murder mystery that may or may not exist, Googling how to write a murder mystery novel and promptly coming to the conclusion that, ‘Mystery was an artless genre, that much was obvious.’ We follow Magda as she tries to solve the mystery.
‘How does one solve a mystery?’ I typed. And then, for good measure, I added the word ‘murder’ before ‘mystery’, since this was indeed what I was dealing with.
Loneliness and mindspace…
Death in her Hands explores loneliness. Thanks to her controlling and belittling husband Walter, Vesta has no friends except her dog, so she is lonely. This story explores how that loneliness, merged with her newfound independence manifests itself. In her own words, Vesta has started to think about things differently too:
Since his death, I’d grown to be more poetic in my thinking.
The made-up word mindspace is used about 30 times through the book, it’s one of Vesta’s favourites and a key theme: celebrating the power of imagination, and whatever road that eventually may take you down…
The job of the sleuth was to narrow down potential realities into a single truth. A selected truth. It didn’t mean it was the only truth.
I love Otessa Moshfegh’s writing style – it’s effortless while being sharp and cutting and that really gives this novel its memorable punch. We are given hints and clues throughout as to what’s actually happening and the bold, powerful ending I did not see coming… please add this book to your TBR and see for yourself! You won’t regret it.
- Published by Jonathan Cape 27th August 2020;
- 272 pages;
- My rating: