Ottessa Moshfegh: "It is less serious to do evil if one is not in one's senses"

For Ottessa Moshfegh (Boston, 1981), “a first book is like a first child.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
31 March 2024 Sunday 10:24
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Ottessa Moshfegh: "It is less serious to do evil if one is not in one's senses"

For Ottessa Moshfegh (Boston, 1981), “a first book is like a first child. It is the one you feel closest to and, whether it turned out well or could be improved, it is your favorite. It is also the most difficult and strange but, on the other hand, the one that generates the most excitement.” The American author made her debut in 2014 with McGlue, a book that now reaches bookstores in Spanish and Catalan by Alfaguara and Angle after the success of works such as My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018), which talks about the lack eager to get out of bed.

His debut novel has as its protagonist McGlue, a rude, deceitful and scoundrel sailor who speaks to the reader from the filthy hold of the ship on which he is held. He doesn't really know why his companions don't let him leave his cabin. Some say he has killed a man. Not just any one, but his best friend – and, surely, his lover, although the author prefers not to specify it – Johnson.

“I got the idea from a brief in a New England newspaper from the mid-19th century. I have always been a nerd who loves to wander through the press archives. The language that was used centuries ago caught my attention and I thought it would be fun to rescue some stories from that time. My attention was drawn to an article whose headline was McGlue and which was summarized in a very long sentence, perhaps the longest I have ever seen and which, in fact, summarizes my entire novel, as it summarizes the verdict of the murder trial. to a man who many declared crazy for having a large gap in his head,” he says during his last visit to Barcelona.

The news captivated the writer. "Maybe because the narrator he invited me to use was very different from me and because he forced me to refer to events that occurred 175 years ago, when justice was often taken into one's own hands." The novel rescues a debate that was already generated when it was published in the United States: Is someone less guilty of a murder for being drunk or for, supposedly, having a mental illness? "I think so. I think that doing something that you are aware is wrong is worse than doing it if you are not in your right mind, even though the damage caused is the same.”

The vast majority of Moshfegh's stories talk about self-destruction, alcoholism and loneliness. “All my characters struggle to feel comfortable. I do that too. I assume that we all feel that way, what happens is that there are many people who don't say it.” She is something that she prefers to debate in her pages, as demonstrated in her first novel, which led her to win the Fence Modern Prize and the Believer Book Award and which is expected to end up being adapted into a film by filmmaker Andrew Haigh. .

Although her fame did not reach Spain until she wrote My Name Was Eileen (2015), which narrates the adventures of a young woman trapped between her role as caregiver for an alcoholic father and her job in a juvenile correctional facility full of daily horrors. The novel won the PEN/Hemingway Prize for best debut and was nominated for the Man Booker. Shortly after, she made the leap to the big screen with Anne Hathaway as the protagonist, which put (completely) the focus on the writer.

The author acknowledges that, after the success of McGlue, she decided to do an experiment with My Name Was Eileen and decided to follow the rules of Alan Watt's creative writing guide, The 90-Day Novel. “That attitude had a certain snobbery. She only thought about succeeding, and she did not believe that with a few simple guidelines she could do it. But I discovered that there is a reason why the narrative works the way it does. It was humbling to discover that it was possible to translate ideas into something comprehensive and common to all readers. It was nice to know that she could write a book that other people would like to read, although I confess that I haven't followed those guidelines anymore. For each book I set different challenges although, to date, I have only confessed this one.”

It is more than likely that Moshfegh acquired this healthy competitiveness at the age of thirteen, when he was fully aware that writing was his thing, although he began as a lyrical petista. Surrounded by a family of musicians, her family tried to get her to follow the same path. And she tried it herself, becoming “a more than decent pianist, who trained more than four hours a day despite having exams at the institute. But, over the years, you realize that not everything goes and that you have to do what fulfills you most. And, now, I am finally fulfilling my dream.”