My Year of Rest and Relaxation was an absorbing read, and one which I imagine will stay with me for some time to come.
The focus of the novel is to document the life, and one particular year of a girl living in Upper East-side Manhattan. Able to live a life of luxury on her inheritance, our narrator tells the story of her mental escape from life by use of prescription narcotics to sleep almost all day, every day. Its an interesting take on drug addiction, because whilst the character is probably physically and mentally addicted to the medication, we don’t witness the same level of addictive behaviours that can be seen in other stories of drug use. I think this adds more so to the idea that her problems are deep rooted in something she can’t block out by drugs. Possibly her failed relationships with her parents. Maybe her previous relationship which she explores as sadomasochistic, possibly abusive. And whilst she thinks the drugs are helping her to achieve her long-term hibernation to become a new woman, she knows inside that they probably can’t help her in the end.
The unnamed woman is quite insufferable. Whilst there are times where I felt pity for her, felt her pain, the sheer amount of privilege displayed in her narrative was often painful to comprehend. From a literary perspective, I felt this was a clever approach from author Ottessa Moshfegh, who uses satire throughout the novel, highlighting how ridiculously luxurious some lives can be whilst still feeling the plague of unhappiness. She documents her time as a receptionist at a gallery, where everyone is too edgy for their own good, stuffed dogs with laser beams for eyes are appreciated as works of art, and where her lunch breaks are spent snoozing in a store room. I liked this aspect the novel and the character. The girl is very honest, up-front and her opinions are often ruthless. She knows how painfully rich she is, she knows how attractive she is, and she knows how messed up the whole situation is. I found her depictions of stereotypes like art history students and artsy gallery boys the most hilarious, and it reminded me of some people I have to witness in my own life.
‘Maybe this memory triggered a haemorrhage of adrenaline that pushed me to go back inside the gallery. I pulled a few Kleenex from the box on my old desk, flipped the power switch to turn on the lasers, and stood between the stuffed black Lab and the sleeping daschund. Then I pulled down my pants, squatted, and shat on the floor. I wiped myself and shuffled across the gallery with my pants around my ankles and stuffed the shitty Kleenex into the mouth of that bitchy poodle. That felt like vindication. That was my proper good-bye. I left and caught a cab home and drank the whole bottle of champagne that night and fell asleep on my sofa watching Burglar, Whoopi Goldberg was one reason to stay alive, at least. ‘
There’s so many themes tackled by the novel, and one I found most interesting was the idea of people having a personal guard, an aesthetic they’re constantly trying to maintain so that people cannot pass it and reveal the truth. The narrators best-friend is a vehicle of this idea, whom she hates and treats like utter sh*t throughout the novel. She’s called Reva, a girl suffering from Bulimia and the burning desire to be popular and loved. She’s compulsive, she is irritating like a repetitive self-help book and she is insecurely self-obsessed. She works at the World Trade Centre where she wants to progress in her career, but is more concerned with sleeping with her boss who she is in love with, the narrator tells us. But despite all her complaints, it is acknowledged that she is a great friend, and I really respected that about this character. Every day she checks up on the unnamed woman, visiting her apartment, bringing her gifts, phoning up to check in. She notices her addiction is growing swiftly, and every interaction we see with her reveals another level of care she has for her friend. The narrator writes this as if she is helping for her own gain, because she can’t fix her own life so someone else’s can be her project instead. But she is genuine, underneath the crazed need to be better, and I felt really sorry for her in the book. Although her constant obsession to be something more irritated me, I think it was because it is a hard truth to come by, and Moshfegh forces readers to see themselves in this character.
And don’t get me started on the boyfriend. I found these interactions and the way the author writes about them super funny, but also sad. It was horrible to witness from the pages of the book and not be able to jump in there and tell her to sack him off before he ruins everything she could possibly be. I was inspired by the way she writes about heterosexual experiences, and the satirical tone which she approached issues which could be deemed as quite sensitive, made it a much more digestible thing to read about. Whilst she may be rich and beautiful, her abusive boyfriend and neglecting parents seem like enough to make anyone want to sleep for a year. And not to mention her crazy-cat-lady therapist who seems intent on providing every sedative under the sun before actual assessing the problems her patient is facing.
“I called him the next day and asked if he was free that weekend, but he said he’d already found a woman who wasn’t going to “pull pranks for attention.” A few nights later, I got drunk and called up Rite Aid and ordered a case of sexual lubricant to be delivered to him at his office the next morning. He sent me a note at the gallery by messenger in response, “Don’t ever do that again,” it said. We got back together a few weeks later.”
If I had to mention something which stood out most in this read, it would be the stark presence of privilege, and the way the author depicts it in a way that both disgusts the reader and tickles them into laughter. Privilege, or more so the inability of people to see and acknowledge their own privilege, angers me, and it was refreshing to see someone so plainly embrace it and display it for what it is. Who else can afford to sleep for a year in Upper-East Side Manhattan to reform themselves as a person?
This read was absorbing, depressing and made me want to sleep for a year so I could also become a new woman. However, I’m luckily smart enough to know that in reality, detaching yourself from everyone around you because you’re rich enough and beautiful enough to avoid the consequences, and drowning your sorrows in a concoction of pills, doesn’t work for anybody.