Cover Image: Death in Her Hands

Death in Her Hands

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Member Reviews

Frustrating book. It has an interesting premise. A woman walking alone in the woods near her home finds a note pinned to the ground by rocks with information about a murder. She lives alone nearby with her dog in a small town she has recently moved to. She is distrustful of those around her and her husband of many years has died. 

Okay, good start. But then, the story goes nowhere. The woman keeps imagining information about the woman named in the note but does nothing to try and actually find her or whether she was murdered. The protagonist just spins a crazy tale in her head and, after a while, it was too much for this reader. I gave up. 

I want a little more out of fiction that just....fiction, if you know what I mean.
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This book made me feel so cozy..her described life at the beginning is exactly how I picture mine in 40 years. And boom! The reliable OM stream of consciousness comes out. The descent into madness was fun.
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I really enjoyed Ottessa Moshfegh's "Eileen" so when "Death in Her Hands" came out, I was thrilled to read it. Unfortunately, the entire book reads like the internal monologue of an old woman prone to anxiety spirals and maladaptive daydreaming. The plot seems to be that an older woman discovers a scrap of paper in the woods on her morning walk claiming that a woman name Magda is dead. From there, our main character starts obsessing about the scrap of paper and dreams up a character named Magda. I'm sure that there is a smartly plotted mystery somewhere further along down the line, but I couldn't seem to drag myself more than about 40% of the way through the book. This book was a very rare DNF for me.
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An elderly woman finds a mysterious note while walking her dog, one that references a murder and a dead body that's no longer present. She becomes obsessed with solving the mystery, and as she searches for answers, her grip on reality slackens.

This is definitely one of those books that leaves you with more questions than answers. And while it seems to be about a murder mystery at first, it's ultimately about aging, disappointments, human connection, and the long shadow of bad relationships. It's a lot to take in, and I'm fairy confident I didn't catch everything Moshfegh threw at me with this one. But it's definitely a complex and thought-provoking journey!
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It was a trip reading a book about an older, retired woman and her dog in their isolated house in the woods. This book was published at the beginning of the 2020 pandemic when the entire globe’s experiencing isolation at unparalleled levels. There is a global psychosis occurring from the lack of socialization, reconfiguring of society, grief, and an unseen looming threat. The themes in this book eerily align with our society’s current problems. This will either add to your experience or it can cause you to put this book down. 

There was something cathartic about reading this book in the consciousness of a deplorable character. Our narrator (Vesta) is a judgemental, mean, cruel, lonely, and unhappy person. These feelings are placed into a pressure cooker and explode when she becomes isolated and finds a note about a possible murder. Vesta spins out of control as she becomes obsessed with Magda. The line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred as Vesta begins to construct a murder mystery.
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While not as overtly disturbing as her still-thrilling "Eileen", this quieter take on a solitary woman's slow disintegration is ultimately just as unsettling. Starting with the protagonist walking her dog in the woods and finding a note declaring that a woman has been kidnapped, Moshfegh tracks her slow spiral into obsession over what the mystery means. Part of the thrill here is the nerve-tightening care Moshfegh brings to the unraveling of her increasingly unreliable narrator. But there is also the intimate chill of a solitude that has been chosen, not forced. Think of it as the psychological thriller that doesn't show the blood rather than a slasher film.
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Wow, this book was wild! Part mystery, part character study. Vesta, a 72-year-old widow who lives alone with her dog, goes for a walk in the woods and comes across a note that reads, ""Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn't me. Here is her dead body."" ...But there isn't a body with the note. Vesta becomes fascinated (obsessed?) with the note and with the mysterious Magda and seeks to understand Magda and what led to her apparent demise.

Vesta is an unreliable narrator in the best way. The book reminded me of times I've watched or read a mystery and the detective draws far-reaching conclusions based on little evidence. Sometimes I laughed, sometimes I empathized, sometimes I was baffled. I was entertained throughout.

This is my first book by Moshfegh, whose books I"ve been wanting to read for a while, and I'm eager to back to some of her previous books and to see what she writes next.
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I was captivated by this book because it's about a 72-yr old widow, Vesta, who lives in a remote area with her dog Charlie. I too am a 72-yr old woman, a retired medical professional and writer who lives in a remote mountain area, and I spend a lot of time walking our dogs.

When while out walking in the woods belonging to the 12-acre old girl scout camp she recently purchased Vesta comes upon a note telling her that someone named Magda lies there and was killed by someone besides the writer of the note, she becomes obsessed. Suddenly she's involved in a murder mystery that she's compelled to solve. As her mental status deteriorates she finds that the few neighbors in the area could easily be part of the murder plot. Even her radio show's Pastor, who has been dead for some time, sends her clues including a call-in from Magda.

As a story describing Vesta's thoughts and infrequent conversations, we know that Vesta's husband died of cancer and that he was an older college professor. How Vesta fared in this relationship depends on her feelings at the time she's musing over events. It's a wonderful psychological inspection of how one's regrets regarding the paths their life has taken can lead to a search toward a different destiny.

I received an advance copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. I feel fortunate to have had this opportunity and look forward to reading more by Ottessa Moshfegh.
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This little mystery was strange and compelling in all the right ways. The main character is delightfully unreliable, and while the mystery doesn't wrap up in a neat bow, it still feels like the proper ending for this story.
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Nothing to See Here

I thought that Moshfegh's "My Year of Rest and Relaxation" was brutal, brittle, and wide awake, and compared well to the work of Didion and Babitz in terms of capturing the zeitgeist of a place and time, in that instance New York City in 2000. And so I looked forward to this latest book with great anticipation and high expectations. Well, "Death in Her Hands" struck me as flaccid and arch. The protagonist is unconvincing and poorly developed. The premise is a simple overworked conceit. Having created a compellingly unreliable narrator, Mossfegh didn't do anything even remotely interesting with her. I can't recall a single memorable line. I can take a joke when the author kids me for the length of a short story. A novel length joke struck me as a bit much. So disappointed.

(Please note that I received a free ecopy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)
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I remain a fan of Moshfegh, in particular her remarkable characters. Vesta joins Eileen and the unnamed narrator of MYORAR in unforgettable women in strange environments and odd situations. Vesta is a 70-something year old woman who has purchased a former Girl Scout camp in New England to live out her days as a widow with her dog Charlie at her side. One morning she is walking Charlie and discovers a cryptic note indicating a crime and spends the next few days investigating this "crime" and piecing together the "clues" in her mind. She navigates her provincial town, mines her memories of her dysfunctional marriage, and encounters suspicious characters at every turn. In true Moshfegh fashion, we have no idea who to believe or whether we can trust the person telling us the story, but we willing go along to find out. Recommended to fans of unreliable narrators, creepy mystery, and tightly written literary fiction.
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Ottessa Moshfegh is such a talent, and Death in Her Hands is just the latest proof. In this meta novel, protagonist Vesta Gul finds a note indicating a murder has occurred. If you're a fan of this author, though, you know that the plot is really just a small piece of the puzzle.
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3.25 stars rounded down to 3.*

This was an incredibly strange book.  I found it on a list of upcoming releases that sounded intriguing and unusual.  It definitely did not disappoint in those departments.

Death in Her Hands opens with the protagonist (an elderly woman) taking her dog, Charlie, for a walk in the woods near her cabin.  She finds a strange note that reads: ""Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn't me. Here is her dead body."" 

And the note sets her upon a path of imagination and mental gymnastics that were difficult to follow and sometimes painful to witness.  

At times I really enjoyed the creativity of the story but at others I really didn't enjoy myself at all.  I particularly disliked the ending.  That said, it was a book I did not predict and for that reason alone it gets to stay in the "like" category.

*with thanks to NetGalley for the digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.
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* I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. * 

I was thrilled to get a copy of Death in Her Hands after reading the authors forward to the Shirley Jackson compilation Dark Tales, and it seems that this author could not have been a better match for that story collection. I've never read anything by this author other than that forward and this novel, but she is certainly on my adar now. 

In just the first few pages (in a conceit that carries on throughout the story) Moshfegh achieves what I had previously believed impossible: a writer, writing ABOUT writing, in a way that isn't either obnoxious, boring, or worse, both. Maybe it's because we receive this through the filter of Vesta, or maybe it's because what she tells us about writing a mystery story rings true -- this method of sneaking in a secondary story about writing a mystery was as enjoyable as the central mystery itself. 

Which brings has to the widow Vesta, alone in her old Girl Scout camp with her dog Charlie, obsessing over a note she found in the woods, bringing to life the 'victim' of the note Magda, and through these activities, realizing some hard truths about her marriage to Walter, recently dead and yet still judging her from his bronze urn. Though Walter is only ever dead throughout the action of the story -- what an insufferable specter he is over the story. 

Vesta herself reminds me of a blend of 2 Shirley Jackson characters, the mean old letter writing widow from The Possibility of Evil and the mean old lady from The Bus. Here, again, Moshfegh achieves something that's a rare feat for an author (and yet something Jackson did frequently) -- she forces you to align with a narrator that you don't really like, and ultimately, to reveal their humanity, too. 

I didn't like Vesta. She's mean, cold, judgemental, and sort of a cold fish. She's outwardly polite, but because as the reader, we're privy to her interior thoughts, we also know that she hates fat people and that she's a classist who thinks poor people are gross. I can make the distinction that these are Vestas's values and not the author's, but I know that other reviews will mention this, so it's worth noting that there's some ugly passages directed at fat people, poor people, and a character who's disfigured. These ugly passages are not used lightly and are not used more than the plot requires -- but they do serve a bigger purpose, as they show you the mean interiority of Vesta. 

Which makes it all that much harder to reconcile her how she is when we as the reader meet her, with the person she might have been that she imagines in Magda, the lifetime of cruelties and isolation she lived as Walter's wife, how these cruelties became part of her -- and the method and means she uses to ultimately take control over her life and assert her will. 

I will also say that the end of the book surprised me in a way in a way I couldn't anticipate, and that while on one hand I was really heartbroken (I'm not going to spoil it for you!) , it made sense for the story. The last quarter of the book (from when Charlie goes missing to the end) ratchet up the tension and fly by.

The ending lines will give me chills for years to come. 

This is not for readers of conventional mystery stories -- you will likely be disappointed. This is, however, for readers who appreciate a taut sense of tension in a story, literary critique of marriage dynamics, fans of Shirley Jackson, or those who like a touch of the macabre. I'm glad in read this book, will recommend it to some and gently steer others away from it, and will probably reread it again at some point.
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I enjoyed this book as a rumination on a life full of hurt and regret. It made me want to live a better more fulfilling life to avoid ever having anything close to the experiences of the narrator. The main character was very sad, and it left me feeling sad. Difficult to recommend as it is not a feel good book, and the dog - heartbreaking! I did find it of value, and believe that it could be something of interest to those with more literary taste, but I feel like it may be too dark for the mainstream readers.
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I usually love the weird world of Ottessa Moshfegh, but this wasn't for me! Despite Moshfegh's inimitable style, I struggled to connect with the character. I also felt the plot was disjointed, and struggled with the internal monologue at times.
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Ottessa Moshfegh's Death in Her Hands is a dark and haunting novel that is sure to hook readers from the opening lines. 

"Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn't me. Here is her dead body."

Death in Her Hands is a departure from fan favorites Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation, but offers its own quiet appeal and is beautifully written.
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I was excited to read Death in Her Hands after the hype I had seen the book received in the media, but I unfortunately quickly lost interest due to the protagonist Vesta’s wandering stream of consciousness and seeming lack of plot development. I appreciated Mosfegh’s attempt at writing a “different” sort of mystery, but I lost interest and was unable to finish this book.
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I'm beginning to think Ottessa Moshfegh's writing just isn't for me - this is the second book of hers I've tried desperately to enjoy and just couldn't. I can never warm to her characters and find the way they view the world (and they ALL seem to view the world in this way, regardless of the story) to be really unpalatable. Really grateful for the chance to read this, but I doubt I'll go for any of her further writing unfortunately.
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Oh this was a strange one. I loved My Year of Rest and Relaxation and was totally disturbed and weirded out by Eileen, so
I knew I would have some kind of strong reaction to Death in her Hands. And I have to say I think I felt closer to Eileen about it.
The story follows the first person narrator, Vesta Gull, a lonely, angry septuagenarian who stumbles upon a note in the woods, a clue to a murder.
The plot sounds fantastic and I think I would have loved this book if it had actually been a murder mystery. But that would be too trite I think for Ottessa  Moshfegh; her strength really truly lies in getting deep into the unhinged minds of her characters: the solitary woman. She is prudish, judgmental, filled with rage, kind of repulsive in many ways (I’m talking about the fascination with feces in both this book and even more in Eileen). Vesta is all of those things and just pretty crazy, talking about communicating with her dead husband, a possible murder victim and a strange demon named Ghod through the “mindspace.”
All in, Ottessa Moshfegh is an incredible writer and her characters are always memorable, bizarre and simply off-putting. I’ll read anything she writes, this one just wasn’t my absolute favorite. But her books are never dull and they are never ever cliche and for that, I’ll always come back.
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