Sarah O'Connor

Writer – Playwright – Cannot Save You From The Robot Apocalypse

“Whoever had written the note understood that by masking one’s peculiarities, one invokes authority. There is nothing as imposing as anonymity,” (Moshfegh 3).
One day while Vesta is walking her dog Charlie by the woods near her house she finds a slip of paper which reads, “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her body” but despite the note Vesta doesn’t see a body. Recently widowed and new to town Vesta doesn’t know many people and becomes shaken and obsessed with the note. She begins investigating who wrote the note, who Magda was, and who killed her. But does the note mean anything or is Vesta making it into more than it actually is?

This is the second book I’ve read in a matter of months that has 1) an elderly lady protagonist 2) is a mystery and 3) references Blake (both referencing this poem, the former being titled after it). They’re both still very different books, but I thought it was interesting how many similarities there are between them. That being said, the longer it’s been since I finished Death in Her Hands the less I enjoyed it, and I was already disappointed in the book right when I finished it.
This is my first Ottessa Moshfegh book, so I’m disappointed in how much I didn’t like this one. It’s a short book so it was easy enough to finish, and I enjoyed the writing style. It’s a beautifully written book and some of the descriptions were deliciously dark. I even enjoyed getting into Vesta’s head, even though she didn’t always make sense I was intrigued about her character and the glimpses she gave reader’s about what her life was like before and during her marriage to her husband. And I did enjoy watching Vesta puzzle over the note she found, but even that became frustrating near the end of the book.
The main question I’m left with is what was the point of any of it and what the hell was going on? Death in Her Hands is a vague novel and while I love vague stories reader’s do have to be able to infer something about the plot, about what is true and what is false and should be able to come up with some discussion but Moshfegh doesn’t give this to her readers. So the book ends and we’re left confused and annoyed that pretty writing just can’t fix.
Also a note of warning, I can usually handle a lot in the books I read but I was very upset with what happened to Vesta’s dog at the end of the novel, and if you don’t like books where something bad happens to animals then Death in Her Hands is DEFINITELY not for you.

Publication: June 23rd 2020
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 259 pages (Hardcover)
Source: Library
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Horror, Contemporary
My Rating: ⛤⛤.5

“While on her normal daily walk with her dog in the forest woods, our protagonist comes across a note, handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground with a frame of stones. “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body”. Our narrator is deeply shaken; she has no idea what to make of this. She is new to area, having moved her from her longtime home after the death of her husband, and she knows very few people. And she’s a little shaky even on best days. Her brooding about this note quickly grows into a full-blown obsession, and she begins to devote herself to exploring the possibilities of her conjectures about who this woman was and how she met her fate. Her suppositions begin to find echoes in the real world, and with mounting excitement and dread, the fog of mystery starts to form into a concrete and menacing shape. But as we follow her in her investigation, strange dissonances start to accrue, and our faith in her grip on reality weakens, until finally, just as she seems be facing some of the darkness in her own past with her late husband, we are forced to face the prospect that there is either a more innocent explanation for all this or a much more sinister one – one that strikes closer to home.

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