Ottessa Moshfegh: "It is less serious to do evil if one is not all there"

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.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
31 March 2024 Sunday 11:16
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Ottessa Moshfegh: "It is less serious to do evil if one is not all there"

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's also the most difficult and strange but, as a counterpart, the one that creates the most illusion". The American author was early in 2014 with McGlue, a book that is now reaching bookstores in Catalan and Spanish published by Angle and Alfaguara, after the success of works such as El meu year de repós i relaxació ( 2018), which talks about the lack of desire to get up.

His debut novel features McGlue, a rough-and-tumble, rogue sailor who speaks to the reader from the greasy hold of the ship where he is being held. He doesn't quite know why his teammates won't let him out of the cabin. Some say he killed a man. Not just anyone, but Johnson, who is her best friend, and probably her lover, although the author prefers not to specify it.

"I got the idea from a short in a New England newspaper from the middle of the 19th century. I have always been a scholar who loves to wander through press archives. I am very interested in the language that was used centuries ago and I thought it would be fun to rescue some stories from back then. I was particularly struck by an article with the headline McGlue and which was summed up in a very long sentence, perhaps the longest I have ever seen and which in fact sums up the entire novel as it summarizes the verdict of the trial for murder of a man whom many declared insane because he had a large fracture in his head", he explains during his last visit to Barcelona.

The news captivated the writer. "It may be because the narrator he invited me to use was very different from me and because he forced me to refer to events that happened 175 years ago, when many times everyone did justice on their own." The novel rescues a debate that was already generated when it was published in the United States: is someone less guilty of a murder because he was drunk or because, allegedly, he had a mental illness? "I think so. I think that doing something that one is aware is wrong is worse than doing it if one is not fully there, even though the harm caused is the same."

The vast majority of Moshfegh's stories deal with self-destruction, alcoholism and loneliness. “All my characters struggle to feel at ease. I struggle with it too. I take for granted that we all feel this way, the fact is that there are many people who do not say it". This is something she prefers to debate in her pages, as she demonstrates in the first novel, which won her the Fence Modern Prize and the Believer Book Award and is expected to eventually be adapted for film in by filmmaker Andrew Haigh.