Author Interview: Ottessa Moshfegh

Death in Her Hands is a haunting metaphysical suspense about an elderly widow whose life is upturned when she find an ominous note on a walk in the woods. We spoke with author Ottessa Moshfegh about what inspired her, the importance of independent bookstores, and more.

Ottessa Moshfegh is a modern-day Camus. A woman finds a note in the woods that proclaims someone is dead. Murdered, in fact. She investigates between dog walks and early evening naps but soon facts, memories, and suppositions entwine and overlap until the simple act of asking a question can unravel the thread of an entire life. Ponderous, violent, forgetful, and deft, Death in Her Hands is a genre-bender that teases you into asking, Is this noir? Horror? A whacked-out farce? Or a sly literary trick? I’ll tell you what it is — absolutely brilliant.

Chris, Boswell Book Company

Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.

I’ve always been interested in how the imagination functions in a character in isolation, how being alone forces us to reflect on our past, and in some cases, how disconnectedness can distort our perception of reality.

In Death in Her Hands, I wanted to employ an elderly character—someone approaching the end of her life—as an investigator into the phenomenon of mortality. I gave my character an actual mystery to solve—the murder of a teenage girl.

The story is both an exploration of the narrator’s interior—her thoughts, motivations, ideas—and the community in which she is isolated–the people, the places, the system of society. It was important that my narrator’s self-reflection hold the gravity of her entire life. As a widow looking back at her marriage, she discovers how her denial blinded her from the truth about her relationship.

In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise listeners about your audiobook?

There is a character Death in Her Hands named Ghod, which is pronounced almost exactly like God. As the audiobook producers were preparing the actor, we had to figure out how to distinguish Ghod from God.

Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?

I haven’t listened to it yet!

Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?

I pretty much stick to the bound book. But I love reading aloud, listening, and absolutely appreciate writing as both a literary and audio artform.

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

Independent bookstores have meant so much to me. That there are passionate individuals presenting my book to readers face-to-face underscores the fact that literature is more than just a private experience.

Books can shape culture, expand minds, foster deeper understanding between people, inspire, devastate, revitalize, astonish. Reading is something we do alone (usually), so these bookstores where people go to get recommendations, pick books up, wander, explore, are vital to the power of literature.

Other audiobooks by Ottessa Moshfegh:

Header photo by Krystal Griffiths

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