“It was lunacy, this idea, that I could sleep myself into a new life. Preposterous. But there I was, approaching the depths of my journey”
I spent absolute ages deciding what book to pick up as my holiday read…
Finally, I picked Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation – I’ve been hearing about it constantly for the last year (pun unintended) and seeing it on every bookstagrammer’s feed, too. So here we go, with the blessing of the Waterstones’ charming bookseller who assured me at check out that it was a ‘great choice, this is the best book I read last year!’– and believe me, reader, this is the only reassurance I needed. Packed it in my beach bag and a few days later, here I was under the Cretan sun, diving deep not in the Aegean Sea but into this journey filled with drugs and depression.
When? This April
How long? A week on the beach
What book? A bestseller, a Man Booker Prize material if you will.
I know, who chooses that as a holiday read? Well, actually…
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is nowhere near as gloomy a read as its premise may suggest. And you get to see this from the first page. The year in question is a period covering 2000-2001. The story is centred around this gorgeous blonde girl that is the poster child of western privilege. Think rich parents, top-class art degree, modern apartment in New York, hot-shot job at a trendy gallery. Only, her parents both die within a short amount of time from each other, her so-called boyfriend is a sadistic moron, and her best friend is too busy sorting our her own life through glossy mag advice and self-help books. All that privilege seems as hollow as the type of guys one such girl attracts on a night out. Money isn’t everything and all that jazz.
So, our never-named-protagonist decides to hibernate for a full year, choosing the sweet release of dreamless sleep over a functioning life in high end New York society. Ouch.
A year full of drug cocktails aiming to knock her out senselessly for days, followed by waking up in confused daze of memory loss, trying to piece out what she had done in that state.
Add to that a small but colourful selection of characters, including old university friend and kind of a liability Reva, the world’s worst therapist, and an on-again, off-again boyfriend (if you can call him that?) who abuses our heroine in ways that would be all too familiar for a lot of girls reading.
“The notion of my future suddenly snapped into focus: it didn’t exist yet.”
Our very attractive, blonde girl barely leaves her flat and spends her awake hours mostly trying to come up with another alcohol&drug cocktail to knock her back out again for even longer. Days on end she spends asleep and then once up, she tries to remember what she did …wait, did I already say that? The book might also sound a bit repetitive to some – after all, she spends a full year trying to be mostly asleep. And we spend all that year with her, inside her head. So what might one expect but delving deep into the mind of a woman whose day to day (or better yet, week to week) life puts a new meaning to mundane?
Fret not. The writing is quick and unapologetic, graphic and out there. It aims to shock and even disgust, to make fun and to satirise. It is New York of the noughties, it is too much privilege too fast. Ottessa Moshfegh is not here to please anyone – so forget about long descriptive paragraphs (they wouldn’t really work in this kind of prose anyway) and think more feelings, actions, thoughts. Or sometimes, the lack thereof.
“Rejection, I have found, can be the only antidote to delusion.”
It’s easy to find some (or all?) of the characters ugly and to struggle to care for them. Yes, as narcissistic and egoistic as our main girl comes across, I couldn’t help but feel for her. This just didn’t feel to me like another rich white girl problems kind of novel. But rather, a very real construction of mental health issues wrapped in a less-than-attractive high society bow. Beneath all her inherited beauty and money, her world is ugly to the core – from the cum-decorated paintings to the sadistic w/banker of a boyfriend.
In books focused on the less privileged ones you often end up sympathising and finding the beauty still shining somewhere. Here, the only thing that shines is the jewellery that all that money buys.
Final thoughts? My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a great read (summer or otherwise) that I thoroughly enjoyed and I think you will too. I know the ending is polarising but it worked for me….and I’ll say no more as you shall make up your own mind. The book is incredibly easy and quick to read, and manages to mix heavy topics with a lot of humour – something I always appreciate in an author. Isn’t it nice to see some sort of a joke in even the darkest of times and isn’t this exactly what helps us get up and move on?
Disclaimer Please keep in mind the content of this book could be triggering for people with depression, mental health issues or history of drug abuse. If you need to seek help, please do call SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day). Sometimes being listened to is all we need.