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Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh review: Nothing to enjoy in this purposely bad medieval fantasy

Is Ottessa Moshfegh trying to alienate her TikTok fans? Or satirising modern America? Either way, the result is no fun to read

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The medieval characters in Ottessa Moshfegh’s Lapvona talk like 21st-century Americans. Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

The medieval characters in Ottessa Moshfegh’s Lapvona talk like 21st-century Americans. Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh

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The medieval characters in Ottessa Moshfegh’s Lapvona talk like 21st-century Americans. Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

Why has Ottessa Moshfegh written a bad medieval fantasy novel? Then again, this raises the question of whether it’s possible to write a good medieval fantasy novel. There is Tolkien, of course. But there is also everyone else. In the first chapter of George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones, the following lines appear. “‘Direwolves loose in the realm, after so many years,’ muttered Hullen, the master of horse. ‘I like it not’.” Portentous kitsch, this. But people love it. Martin’s books have sold in the millions. So have Robert Jordan’s, Tad Williams’s, Raymond E Feist’s, etc. But another chunk of cod-courtly flapdoodle loose in the realm? I like it not.

On the other hand, when a genre becomes this popular, it attracts the attention of ironists — that is, writers of a more reflective or parodic bent, who are interested in what a given genre might be made to say about less kitsch, more serious themes. This might be one reason why Lapvona, Ottessa Moshfegh’s fourth novel, takes place in a generic medieval fiefdom, and why it kicks around some of the tropes of medieval fantasy.


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