I picked and bought this book knowing nothing about it before. I had just dropped out of uni (take a shot everytime I say this on my blog) and was planning on taking a break for the rest of the year. Therefore, when I was on the Waterstones website searching for one more book to qualify for free delivery – I thought that a book titled ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ would be quite fitting. As it turns out, the title takes on a much deeper meaning.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation was published in 2018 and is Otessa Moshfegh’s second novel. It is written from the point of view of an unnamed narrator living in New York City in the year before the 9/11 terrorist attack. This narrator has all the perceived ingredients for success and happiness in New York City at the time -she is young, beautiful, wealthy and educated- and yet she is deeply depressed and disillusioned with her life, which she tries to escape as much as possible by sleeping. She wishes to escape the pain caused by her loveless childhood and the death of her parents, her toxic on and off relationship, and the shallowness of New York society at the time. Helped by a dodgy therapist prescribing her infinite pills, the narrator follows through with her plan on going into a year long pill induced hibernation – with the hope of waking up as a new and improved person.
Many reviews of this novel have discussed the protagonist’s likeability, or rather unlikeability, but what is most important and striking to me is how human she is. I was amazed by how well Moshefgh is able to challenge our arbitrary definitions of characters as either good or bad by conjuring up such a complex and disappointingly human protagonist. Undoubtedly, there have been times when we have all fantasised of simply ignoring and escaping our problems and reality and yet here is a character who is doing just that – literally ensuring she is unconscious for a year of her life, her reality.
I loved how Moshefgh makes the protagonist, who would normally be considered radical, seem like the most sane character in the book . By setting the novel just before the 9/11 terrorist attack, the blind optimism and superficial obsessions of the other characters appear naive and foolish, making the protagonist’s cynical attitude to life more credible and logical. Consequently, her plan of a year long hibernation comes across as more reasonable.
There is a lot of repetition throughout the book, which, although a great metaphor for the banality of the narrator’s life, did mean my interest sometimes wavered. Overall, Moshhfegh’s beautiful, witty writing and believable characters made this book enjoyable. It prompted me to think about how I deal with stress and problems and whether I react in the right way, if there even is such a thing as a ‘right’ reaction. I recommend this book.