In a village buffeted by natural disasters, a motherless shepherd boy finds himself part of a power struggle that puts the community’s faith to a savage test, in a spellbinding novel that represents Ottessa Moshfegh’s most exciting leap yet.
Little Marek, the abused and delusional son of the village shepherd, never knew his mother--his father told him she died in childbirth. One of Marek’s few consolations is his enduring bond with the blind village midwife, Ina, who suckled him when he was a baby, as she did many of the village’s children. Ina’s gifts extend beyond childcare: for some people, her ability to receive transmissions of sacred knowledge from the natural world is a godsend. For others, Ina’s home in the woods outside of the village is a place to fear and to avoid, a godless place.
Among the villagers is Father Barnabas, the town priest and lackey for the depraved lord and governor, Villiam, whose hilltop manor contains a secret embarrassment of riches. The people’s desperate need to believe that there are powers that be who have their best interests at heart is put to a cruel test by Villiam and the priest, especially in this year of record drought and famine. But when fate brings Marek into violent proximity to the lord’s family, new and occult forces arise to upset the old order. By year’s end, the veil between blindness and sight, life and death, and the natural world and the spirit world will prove to be very thin indeed.