My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Ottessa Moshfegh is one of those writers whose stories stay with you long after you finish reading them. My Year of Rest and Relaxation, her second novel, is no exception.
In this novel, the narrator (she remains unnamed throughout the book) decides to take some time off from life by attempting to go into a year long hibernation aided by the many different pills she gets her psychiatrist to prescribe to her. On the outside, her life seems great. She’s thin, gorgeous, well-educated, and has tons of money thanks to the inheritance she received after her parents passed away. But on the inside, things are pretty dark, and she thinks that taking a year to reset will help her wake up from her hibernation renewed and ready for a fresh start.
“Sleep felt productive. Something was getting sorted out. I knew in my heart—this was, perhaps, the only thing my heart knew back then—that when I'd slept enough, I'd be okay. I'd be renewed, reborn. I would be a whole new person, every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant, foggy memories.”
This novel is both dark and hilarious, unfiltered and relatable. We all have been at a place in life where we’re just so tired of going through the motions that we want to clock out for a while, to take a week long nap and escape the facileness of our everyday lives. It’s one of those common secrets that everyone experiences, but no one talks about. That’s the type of writer Moshfegh is, the type who is unafraid to talk about the things that no one else dares to shed any light on.
While there is some repetition in this novel (taking pills, blacking out, getting a visit from her envious best friend, Reva, going to see her psychiatrist to see what else she can prescribe her), it never feels monotonous or boring. In fact, the repetitiveness helps put you in the narrator’s state of mind, making it easy to get lost in the hazy world that Moshfegh creates for her.
There are many times in the novel when the narrator is portrayed as cold or crude or unlikable, but no one is pleasant all of the time. Showing this character at her darkest moments, showing how she behaves when no one else is around, is comforting in a strange way. It reminds us that we are all human and it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. Too many stories have a protagonist who is so easily likeable and so undeniably good. It’s refreshing to read about a protagonist who is just as imperfect and fucked up as the rest of us.
This isn’t one of those stories that is necessarily pleasant or lighthearted. However, it is one of those stories that grips you until the very end. It is honest and raw and does not hold back. If you do not want to read something that talks about shit or pubic hair or blowjobs, then this story may not be for you. But if you want to dive into something that does not play it safe or aim to be politically correct, then you should absolutely check this novel out.
Reviewed by Alexis Bowe
Published by A Perigee Book/Penguin Group