Ottessa Moshfegh

Portrait Ottessa Moshfegh
© Jake Belcher

Ottessa Moshfegh was born in Boston in 1981, the daughter of an Iranian violinist and a Croatian violist and grew up in Newton. She studied English and creative writing at Barnard College from 1998 to 2002, and completed a master’s degree in creative writing at Brown University from 2009 to 2011.
Moshfegh’s short stories were first published in »The Paris Review«, »Vice«, and »The New Yorker«. In 2014, she published her debut, the novella »McGlue«. The story is set in Massachusetts in the mid-19th century, but the issues raised there have lost none of their relevance: the sailor McGlue is accused of murdering his best friend. But McGlue can’t remember a thing, due to a head injury and alcohol abuse. Or maybe McGlue simply chooses not to remember. Moshfegh won the Believer Book Award and the Fence Modern Prize in Prose for her debut about male friendship, the repression of socially ostracized homosexuality, and the fragility of existence. In 2015, she published her critically acclaimed first novel, »Eileen«. Twenty-four-year-old Eileen must care for her alcoholic, paranoid father, with whom she lives in a rundown house. Eileen earns her living as a secretary in a juvenile detention centre. When a new colleague starts working there, Eileen’s hated life changes in one fell swoop. She courts Rebecca’s friendship, but it comes at a price: Eileen is drawn into a crime. The novel won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016. A film adaptation of the novel is currently planned. In »Homesick For Another World« (2017), Moshfegh presented a collection of stories, the majority of which feature characters on the darker side of life. In her stories, Moshfegh also demonstrates her keen powers of observation and her penchant for dark humor. This work was followed by the novel »My Year of Rest and Relaxation« (2018), in which an unnamed protagonist – young, beautiful, wealthy and highly educated – longs for a respite from the world. With the help of psychotropic drugs and sleeping pills, she brings herself to a state of tranquility. But she discovers that she seems to lead a different life while she sleeps. Set in New York before 9/11, the novel can also be read as commentary on the state of society at the time. Her most recent publication is »Death in Her Hands« and was published in 2020. While out for a walk, the 72-year-old professor’s widow Vesta Guhl finds a piece of paper with a few lines on it about a murder of a woman named Magda. Although there are no leads, Vesta tries to investigate. The novel delves deeper and deeper into the mental construct that Vesta designs around the crime, until she herself ultimately loses her bearings. The »Zeit« has described Ottessa Moshfegh as »one of the most willful voices in new world literature«.
The author lives in Los Angeles.