I first heard of Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation it on Instagram. Everybody was talking about it, I saw pictures of the book everywhere. The reviews, however, were not all good: a masterpiece, a cheap piece of shock literature, a groundbreaking story, an immensely boring book… everybody had a different opinion about it, they either loved or hated it and did so for different reasons. This is why I wanted to give it a try.
This was my first time reading Moshfegh and, to put it mildly, I was unprepared. I had no idea what I was getting into and I suddenly found myself binge-reading this unpleasantly wonderful novel. I just could not stop. Maybe I was amazed at how unlikeable the main character was or at how funny and heartbreaking and even disgusting were the events of the book under the subtly cruel and honest prose of Moshfegh. I just know it is one the most interesting books I’ve read this year.
Basically, My Year of Rest and Relaxation is the story of an unnamed young woman who lives in New York and seems to have it all: a glamorous job in an art gallery, good looks and money. She has however recently lost both parents, has and on and off terrible relationship with a douchebag and her “best friend” is incredibly self-absorbed. Our narrator is, by the way, no sweetheart, and she can find no meaning whatsoever in her hollow life: she dislikes her job and her friends, has no family anymore (and her family sucked anyway) and has no hobbies… so she decides to drug herself numb for a year with the aid of a terrible psychiatrist. She thinks that, after sleeping for a year, she will be a new person, able to enjoy the world and to actively participate in it.
I mean, the plot is driven by such a terrible idea! And it works wonderfully. As a reader you cannot help but realize just how dumb and absurd the world around the protagonist is. So isn’t her ailment kind of a modern-day spleen? How can we escape the banality of real life? How can we escape the numbness and anxiety of living? This is what our protagonist is trying to do, she is like a modern Holden Caulfield or Mersault. I can’t say I “liked” the book, even though I devoured it— it was something deeper than that, I guess. Let’s just say I found it deeply unsettling, as good literature should be. But hey, it is also fun as hell.
Have you read it? I loved it so much and now Eileen is the only Moshfegh left on my list.
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