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Death in Her Hands: A Novel Hardcover – June 23, 2020

3.5 out of 5 stars 440 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


One of New York Public Library's Best Books of 2020! 

Named One of the Best Books of the Summer by: New York Magazine, Time Magazine, Town & Country, Marie Claire, Refinery 29, PopSugar, the Today Show, and more

“A recent profile of Moshfegh in this newspaper suggested that her stories of detachment are perfectly suited to this moment of global isolation. But her goal isn’t to lull us to sleep; it’s to wake us up. Why aren’t we paying attention? What are we missing? Isn’t it time for us to start seeing the world as it really is?” —Ruth Franklin, The New York Times Book Review

“[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 . . . Death in Her Hands is the work of a writer who is, like Henry James or Vladimir Nabokov, touched by both genius and cruelty. Cruelty, so deplorable in life, is for novelists a seriously underrated virtue. Like a surgeon, or a serial killer, Moshfegh flenses her characters, and her readers, until all that’s left is a void. It’s the amused contemplation of that void that gives rise to the dark exhilaration of her work—its wayward beauty, its comedy, and its horror.” —Kevin Power, The New Yorker
“Moshfegh’s gift for staring down darkness—for finding spiffy packages for awfulness—is rare and unexpectedly riveting. If art can’t reclaim maimed pasts, erase pointless ones, or promise better futures, a writer who keeps us listening to her alienated female narrators, intrigued by their fates, has managed a feat.” The Atlantic

“Ottessa Moshfegh is far too interesting a writer to be concerned with the problem-solving at the heart of most mysteries. She prefers questions to answers, and dwelling on what’s mysterious. The concerns that animate Death in Her Hands will be familiar to readers of her other books, including her 2018 bestseller My Year of Rest and Relaxation. What, for example, does it mean to exist in a body? How should one sensibly spend a day? Just how insidious is it to be loved poorly? And what does madness look like when so much of the world seems insane? . . . Ms. Moshfegh has a talent for first-person narratives that feel fresh, strange, unreliable and amusing.” The Wall Street Journal

“Ottessa Moshfegh, the authorial doyenne of hermits and eccentrics, misanthropes and recluses, is back with another novel narrated by an alienated and alienating woman whose uncanny, idiosyncratic voice compels us to read. Death in Her Hands is at once a satire of and metafictional commentary on the mystery/crime genre, a study of trauma’s effect on the psyche, and a reflection on the creative process . . . [a] striking and original contribution to Moshfegh’s remarkable oeuvre.” The Boston Globe

“Literature’s reigning queen of the profane, Ottessa Moshfegh, is divisive: Readers tend to love her or hate her. If her latest novel is subtler than her most recent works, it’s just as chilling — it could be a jumping-off point for new readers. A self-contained horror story that takes place inside the mind of an alluringly unreliable narrator, the novel follows a 72-year-old widow who has moved with her dog to a large plot of land where they are seemingly at one with nature. When she finds a handwritten note that implies a murder has taken place on her property, she works to solve it as best she can. The narrator’s dark fantasies and less-than-pure thoughts work especially well if you think of Death in Her Hands as a sequel to Moshfegh’s deliciously gross and grotesque debut novel, Eileen.” Vulture

“A masterclass in suspense.” The Economist

“Ottessa Moshfegh writes in the first person like almost no one else. She draws her readers into the minds of distinctly prickly people on the margins, whose imaginations veer toward the grotesque and discomfiting.” —Thrillist

“Moshfegh is among the most talented writers working. I can think of no one who writes with greater insight about isolation and the often-macabre manner in which it warps the psyche.”  Washington Independent Review of Books

“[Death in Her Hands] has an afterlife in your mind. From a distance, you can savor its trap doors.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Dark doesn’t even begin to describe Ottessa Moshfegh’s latest novel, Death in Her Hands. Try horrifying, macabre, fashionably self-referential and exceptionally well-written—a book, as the publisher’s blurb says, that asks us to consider how the stories we tell ourselves both reflect the truth and keep us blind to it. Plus, it’s got a great dog.” Associated Press

“Moshfegh’s fiction is so often coated in diamond-hard layers of cynicism; in Death in Her Hands, the cynicism is cracked. We can reach out and touch the fragile emotional core. Even as the reader can’t trust Vesta, a classic unreliable narrator, Moshfegh lets us close to her needy heart; deep down, despite her barbed tongue and her self-imposed isolation, she wants to be found.” —Huffington Post
Death in Her Hands is not so much about solving a death as it is about conjuring a life. In its apparent plotlessness, it posits philosophical questions about the meaning of mortality. . . . Death in Her Hands is a book that casts loneliness and freedom in unexpected lights.” —The Washington Post

“When it comes to evoking the jagged edge of contemporary anxiety there might not be a more insightful writer working today than Moshfegh. That is, if the boundless dark potential of the human psyche is your thing. If it’s not, this atmospheric, darkly comic tale of a pathologically lonely widow and the thrills lurking in her sylvan retreat might not be for you. But, sophisticated reader that you are, you’re not afraid of the dark. Right?” The Millions

“Moshfegh, known for her screwball subversions of genre tropes and her gleefully grotesque sensibility, here offers a thriller that glitters with jagged details and unfolds mostly inside the protagonist’s head.” The New Yorker (Briefly Noted)

“Part crime thriller, part dark comedy, and totally delightful.” —Good Housekeeping

“One of the most outstanding young literary talents working today . . . As with Eileen, [Death in Her Hands] is a book that plays with elements of crime fiction, but don’t expect a paint-by-numbers thriller that ties off neatly by the end. Dark and character-driven.” —Five Books

“This unnerving latest from Moshfegh offers a truly creepy murder mystery while commenting on our relationship to the genre itself.” —Library Journal 

“Perhaps the most jarring genre of fiction is the kind that takes you deep into the gradual unraveling of a person's mind. Moshfegh does a masterful job with Death In Her Hands, which follows a protagonist who believes she's solving a murder. The book moves seamlessly from suspenseful to horrifying, retaining the reader's attention all the while.” —Marie Claire

"Moshfegh is a novelist I will follow pretty much anywhere, even if this story’s winding path raised as many questions as it answered." Taylor Antrim, Vogue.com

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

“From her bracing debut novel, Eileen, to her breakout 2018 hit, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Moshfegh has perfected an enervating, claustrophobic style in which complex anti-heroines seek escape through fantasy or delusion. Her latest novel, Death in Her Hands, continues in this vein, depositing a recognizable, Moshfegh-ian protagonist into a twisting, satirical murder mystery.” —WBUR Radio

“An eerie and affecting satire of the detective novel.” —Kirkus, starred review 
“A much subtler, more mature book—one in which suffering is developed rather than declared.” —Bookforum

“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.” —Bookpage 

“Unlike anything else you’ll read all year. It’s Moshfegh at her darkest and sharpest.” —HelloGiggles, Most Anticipated Books of 2020
“Ottessa Moshfegh is always a must-read, and her latest combines 'horror, suspense and pitch-black comedy' to deliver a fascinating tale guided by an unreliable narrator.” —Paste, 25 Most Anticipated Novels of 2020

About the Author

Ottessa Moshfegh is the author of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a New York Times bestseller; Homesick for Another World, a New York Times Book Review notable book of the year; Eileen, which was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction; and McGlue, which won the Fence Modern Prize in Prose and the Believer Book Award. Her stories have earned her a Pushcart Prize, an O. Henry Award, the Plimpton Prize, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Product details

  • Item Weight : 13.6 ounces
  • Hardcover : 272 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1984879359
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1984879356
  • Dimensions : 5.78 x 0.98 x 8.6 inches
  • Publisher : Penguin Press (June 23, 2020)
  • Language: : English
  • Customer Reviews:
    3.5 out of 5 stars 440 ratings

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Reviewed in the United States on June 25, 2020
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Read But...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 8, 2020
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5.0 out of 5 stars My first ever Ottessa Moshfegh and what a delight.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 31, 2020
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5.0 out of 5 stars Roaming Around with Death
Reviewed in India on October 9, 2020
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5.0 out of 5 stars Roaming Around with Death
Reviewed in India on October 9, 2020
There’s something about Moshfegh’s writings that draws me toward it and makes me want to keep reading it without taking a break. No wonder I finished reading this book in less than three days only. Like all her other protagonists, we meet a woman who has chosen a life of seclusion from other people with various existential questions popping up in her head. However, unlike her other younger characters, here we meet a curious woman who is 72 years old. Age does a lot to what and how the character can be like and certainly, that is reflective in Moshfegh’s sketch of Vesta Gul. With an age of experience to retrospect, we meet Vesta and her dog Charlie in the woods discovering a note of the death of someone named Magda. From then on, Vesta sets on a mission to find more about Madga, give her her hand, the justice, and the love which her life may not have given to her. The book not only explores womanhood but also makes an intelligent commentary on the purpose of a murder mystery novel. With Moshfegh’s dark humour, it almost feels like a satire on writing a murder mystery story; a story full of blame-game, doubts, suspicions, the thrill to find the person out who is guilty. Almost every time, it is the other that we are in search of in a murder mystery story. Moshfegh plays with that idea and weaves a thriller that will keep you wondering until the last page as to what will happen? Who is who? and other such questions that piques your curiosity as Vesta sets herself in solving Magda’s case. This was a much better book than her previous one, I have to say. I liked how likeable Vesta was which doesn’t happen in Moshfegh’s books since she draws up unlikeable characters. I felt close to Vesta. I loved the setting of the novel. Nothing would be perfect for a thriller than a secluded wintry town with little people and barely any idea of when days change from one to another. I cannot wait for Moshfegh to write more books. I hope she keeps experimenting with characters and their lives as she did in this one.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected
Reviewed in Canada on July 11, 2020
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