6 May 2021

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

I always try to start the new year reading a book I expect to love. I had seen Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation on so many bookstore shelves, and the cover is pretty eye catching (especially with the use of neon pink). I originally thought this was a memoir but quickly learned it was fiction. I read this quickly and immediately ordered another Moshfegh novel. My Year of Rest and Relaxation is 304 pages and I flew through it. It's about a young woman who decides she wants to sleep for an entire year.... this book is not about self-care. 

The protagonist is a recent college grad who lives in New York. Both of her parents are dead - one from cancer, the other a suicide. Their deaths left her enough money to not worry about working or rent. She spends the first little bit of the book working at an art gallery. Here she starts taking long, black-out naps in the workplace closet. She eventually gets fired and is then able to truly commit to her sleep. 

I was not a narcoleptic - I never fell asleep when I didn't want to. I was more of a somniac. A somnophile. I'd always loved sleeping. It was one thing my mother and I had enjoyed doing together when I was a child. She was not the type to sit and watch me draw or read me books or play games or go for walks in the park of bake brownies. We got along best when we were asleep." 

This is not a book about taking care of yourself and making sure you get the proper amount of rest (which is kind of what I thought it was going to be when I believed it was a memoir). The protagonist literally wants to sleep a minimum of 22 hours a day. It is the opposite of self care ... her muscles start to atrophy. 

All of this is made possible by a deranged psychiatrist who prescribes her every pill imaginable (Xanax, Lithium, Valium, and some more potent downers). I really enjoyed the humour employed in Moshfegh's writing which is especially prevalent in these scenes. A reoccurring bit is when the protagonist has to constantly remind her psychiatrist that both her parents are dead. 

I went home and went to sleep. Outside of the occasional irritation, I had no nightmares, no passions, no desires, no great pains." 

Ottessa Moshfegh

I found this book so enjoyable (and ordered others from Moshfegh) because I found the story so unique. The main character is so unlikable and this book feels full of venom for all things "Wellness" related. My friend Michael M is an avid reader and he mentioned her writing seems like it could be adapted into a Coen Brother's movie, or something equally absurd. It was the absurd-nature of the plot and the biting humour that really drew me in. Sometimes I love to read something mean.

The only thing I didn't really like about My Year of Rest and Relaxation was the inclusion of 9/11. Throughout the book there's mention of the Twin Towers and you start to get the feeling the terrorist attack might be somehow involved. This isn't a spoiler at all! I wouldn't say 9/11 has that strong an impact on the plot, which is why it's so weird it's included. I read that originally the book was going to be more focused on this event but then Moshfegh changed gears.

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 consciousness."

Moshfegh is a pretty young writer and I really look forward to her publishing more novels. I would recommend this book to everyone I know, and I'm looking forward to discussing it with my friends who have already read it!

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