46 pages 1 hour read

Ottessa Moshfegh


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide


Lapvona (2022) is a novel by Ottessa Moshfegh. Moshfegh’s debut novel, Eileen (2015), won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and was adapted into a film released at the beginning of 2023. Moshfegh’s other works include My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Death in Her Hands, as well as a short story collection and a novella, McGlue. Moshfegh is renowned in literary circles for her crisp sentences and exploration of dark themes.

Content Warning: The novel includes graphic descriptions of child abuse, incest, domestic violence, sexual assault, suicide, cannibalism, and implied pedophilia.

Plot Summary

Lapvona unfolds over the course of five seasons in the titular medieval village and focuses primarily on Marek, the apparent son of the village shepherd, Jude (in fact, Marek’s mother, Agata, was already pregnant by her brother when Jude found, raped, and imprisoned her). Marek has a crooked spine and other physical conditions that make him feel different from the rest of the village. Jude beats and criticizes Marek, which Marek believes earns him God’s favor. The only person who shows even a hint of kindness to Marek is Ina, his wet nurse.

Marek is friends with Jacob, the son of Lapvona’s lord, Villiam, but their friendship consists of Jacob ordering Marek around and Marek responding with subservience. One spring day, Marek tells Jacob about some brightly colored cliff birds, and Jacob demands that he take him there. When the two boys reach the top of the cliff, Marek throws a rock at Jacob, who falls, his body crushed on impact. Marek runs away, leaving him there to die.

Although he initially says a strong wind caused the accident, Marek eventually tells Jude what happened. Jude carries Jacob’s body to Villiam and decides to let Villiam punish Marek however the lord sees fit. Villiam, detached from reality because of his life of endless entertainment and diversion, treats the situation as a game and demands Marek in exchange for Jacob. Jude agrees and leaves Marek behind.

At the manor, Marek receives the attention he craved from Villiam and begins to participate in Villiam’s vapid and profane lifestyle, although these changes feed a deep sense of guilt. Lispeth, a young servant girl who loved Jacob, tends to Marek’s every need with cold hatred. Meanwhile, Villiam hoards his wealth and comfort, ruling his people by employing bandits to steal from them and encouraging the local priest, Father Barnabas, to manipulate them.

Summer brings a drought to Lapvona, causing over half the population to die. Most of the village moves to the lakeside, where they eat insects and mud to survive. While venturing to the lake, Jude sees an old man named Klim die; he carries Klim’s body off, afraid the others will eat it, and brings it to Ina’s cabin. She commands him to cook it. Although he resists at first, eventually Jude gives in and eats Klim. That same day, Marek steals Father Barnabas’s robes and sneaks back home to reconnect with Jude. When Jude arrives home carrying the remainder of Klim’s corpse, he sees the priest’s robes in his bed and fears that Father Barnabas has come to punish him for his cannibalism. Jude runs away, leaving Klim’s torso behind. When Marek wakes, he mistakes Klim’s torso for his father’s and buries it before returning to the manor, believing himself orphaned. While running through the woods, Jude comes across Agata, Marek’s mother, who is also making her way to the manor in hopes of escaping starvation. Believing he is in a dream, Jude rapes and abandons her.

Those living at the manor are not suffering from the drought, as Villiam has hoarded mountain runoff in a reservoir. Villiam sends his wife’s lover, Luka, from the manor, plotting to have him killed by bandits. Desperate with grief over the death of her son and planning to start a new life with Luka, Villiam’s wife, Dibra, follows and is also killed. Only her horse returns, its eyes gouged out and stolen by Ina, who has been blind since early adulthood, experiencing only fleeting moments of sight when she nurses.

Agata arrives at the manor, once again with an unwanted pregnancy. Villiam and Father Barnabas inspect Agata and decide she is still a virgin and must be pregnant with a new Christ. Hoping marriage to her will bring him further fame and fortune, Villiam takes Agata as his new wife. Marek recognizes Agata as his mother, but she rejects him when he attempts to connect with her, and he becomes jealous of the unborn child.

As the village recovers from the horrors of the summer, a man named Grigor begins to question the motives of the bandits who frequently raid the village. While he initially suspects that Ina might be a witch, when he meets her in person, she tells him the truth about how Villiam hoarded water during the drought, and he recognizes her as a wise woman. Ina has replaced her blind eyes with the eyes from Dibra’s horse. Grigor believes that Ina is enlightened and begins spending more time with her.

As the manor prepares for the new baby, Villiam hires Ina to care for Agata (sequestered so as to safeguard the pregnancy) and Jude to be his new horseman. Villiam feels pressured to behave with more maturity and sobriety now that he is the soon-to-be-father of the “Christ Child.” However, this new lifestyle causes him stress and anxiety. Similarly, Father Barnabas begins having night terrors, fearing that he will be found out as a fraud once the child is born.

The manor prepares for two feasts, one on Christmas Eve and one on Christmas Day, by building a crèche in the stables. Two families from the village are invited—one at each meal. During the first meal, Villiam accidentally sets the crèche on fire and burns down part of the stables. Grigor and his family are invited to the second meal, and after the conversation goes awry, he confronts Villiam about the drought. Villiam gives no reply, and the guests leave. Father Barnabas receives a bottle of poisoned wine from Dibra’s brother and gives it to Lispeth after she rejects his sexual advances. Lispeth invites Villiam to share it with her, and they both die from the poisoned wine. Meanwhile, Father Barnabas hangs himself in his room after another night terror.

Marek inherits the lordship less than a year after coming to live at the manor, although Dibra’s brother sends a staff member to make the important decisions for him. In the final section, Grigor visits Ina, who is still locked away with Agata. He finds Ina much younger in appearance and producing milk for the child, who she claims is hers. Marek sneaks into the room while they converse and discovers that Agata is long dead. He steals the baby and brings it to the cliffs where Jacob died, telling it that it will be happier in heaven.