My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh is an existential book I haven’t read in a long time and one which won’t leave you neutral even though the whole story is about desire of taking break and falling asleep for entire year.
This is a novel about a young nameless protagonist who decides that it will be best if she could take a year retirement from life and just sleep. Not a bad idea I think, as many of us would like to escape some busy time at work, slept off our problems at home or just hibernate during the cold and dark winter. I think this idea is intriguing enough for picking up this book.
But then we find out that the protagonist is very good looking, blond, thin and smart. She recently graduated from Columbia, works an easy job at a hip art gallery and she has an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. Why does she want to escape all of it, instead of enjoying her life full of possibility and luster?
Oh, sleep. Nothing else could ever bring me such pleasure, such freedom, the power to feel and move and think and imagine, safe from the miseries of my waking conscious.
Well, I think this clearly shows what Ottessa Moshfegh meant by writing that kind of story. No material things, wealth and intelligence have the power to release us from distress and suffering. There is no excuse for getting sick, depressed or lonely no matter how privilege one might be.
She has a friend, Riva, less-wealthy shadow self, not that skinny or smart but loyal and sensitive. She has a boyfriend Trevor who abuses her and never considered her as a real girlfriend and she has Dr. Tuttle - a wacky psychiatrist who enables her pill-popping to the extreme. But most of all she has a safety cushion of her inheritance and does not need to think about money.
While reading some pages I was thinking what’s the point of me reading this story, what I can learn about it, as I knew that some medications prescribed by Dr. Tuttle were fictional, and why oh why there is always a good friend who never gives up and tries her best for visiting someone who is so egoist.
But maybe this is the whole point of this story, to wonder and go deeper as things which considered as leverage don’t need to help everyone. It maybe is opposite and it maybe is not only boredom and loneliness it may be a depression which can’t be cured. No friends, possibilities and money can give enough motivation for fighting and what else would be better than just simply hibernate. Who knows, maybe if some of us would have that chance to take a break from life would come back less miserable and more gentle? But My Year of Rest and Relaxation is not only exploring all these possibilities, but there are also poignant moments and there is hope at the end of the story, despite heartbreaking final in New York City pre-9/11.
It’s clear that this book wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea as it is dark and gross, can’t say that this is enjoyable read but it is a compelling read and different than anything I ‘ve read in a long time. So, if you are in a way fascinated by dark and depressed characters, think that boredom has a double meaning and that is a fascinating topic than I highly recommend you to read My Year of Rest and Relaxation.
Reviewer: Monika Barrera
Date published: 01-01-2018
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, London
Review rating: 3,5/5