„I was finally doing something that really mattered. 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. My past life would be but a dream, and I could start over without regrets, bolstered by the bliss and serenity that I would have accumulated in my year of rest and relaxation.“
This book certainly gets the reactions going. In our bookclub it was pretty much love or hate. I really enjoyed this novel even though it was not at all what I expected. After I had managed to overcome that tiny bit of annoyance that the protagonist doesn’t use her year of rest and relaxation to read tons of book I was all in.
I found the book smart, ironic, funny and very dark. The protagonist does what I would like to do: Put my life on pause for a while, until the Trumps, Erdogans, Putings and other assholes have disappeared and I come back to life and all these last years of bullshit were just a bad dream. Wouldn’t that be wonderful.
Well our nameless protagonist goes into hibernation for an entire year. But when you think sandy beaches, or comfy pyjamas, hot beverages and good books you are very wrong. She is off to a completely different kind of hibernation.
She is most of the time of this year completely strung out on a concoction of different super strong drugs, whilst also juggling her partly unwanted friendship with her best friend, her shitty ex-boyfriend and her feelings about her dead parents.
The story is set in the year 2000 and she hibernates hoping to come out of it a completely new human being. She manages to find the worlds worst and funniest psychiatrist who gets her every perscription drug mankind has ever heard of and by this helps her to sleep away a year of her life.
“This was how I knew the sleep was having an effect: I was growing less and less attached to life. If I kept going, I thought, I’d disappear completely, then reappear in some new form. This was my hope. This was my dream.”
The book feels like a strange endless fever dream with its repetitions and its haziness. The protagonist blacks in and out of her life, walks to a nearby Bodega to buy old VHS tapes only to head back to the sofa to fall back asleep. Sometimes she is awake without noticing, goes on telesales shopping binges, finds her phone in the oddest places, phones her ex boyfriend etc. Her black outs can last for days sometimes but she is more astonished by them then horrified and thinks of ways to hide her phone from herself to stop making orders or appointments.
Even though she mainly sleeps, her observation skills of the outside world are spot on. I don’t wanna get into describing the narrators relationship with her distant father and her cold abusive mother. It is definitely the main reason for her escapism and her avoidance of everything.
Oh and then there is her best friend from university, try-hard Reva, who is so desperate to fit in, to stay slim and to be liked. She is always reading the latest hyped self-help book, is having an affair with her boss and if only to have some drama in her life that she can continously chew over with her her friend. She is in every way the absolute opposite of our apethic heroine.
I thoroughly enjoyed this bittersweet story but I’m aware Ottessa Moshfegh is not a writer for everyone. One has to have a bit of a thing for unlikeable protagonists and should ideally not be squeamish about body fluids, descriptions of odors etc.
Check out Ottessa Moshefegh’s previous novel „Eileen“ which I liked even better and makes for really good winter reading.
„My Year of Rest and Relaxation“ is available in German as „Mein Jahr der Ruhe und Entspannung“ in Liebeskind Verlag.