My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature. Our narrator has many of the advantages of life, on the surface. Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like everything else, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents in college, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend. It’s the year 2000 in a city glittering with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?
Wow. This book is quite gorgeous, in a completely disheveled way. The writing is great and our protagonist – model-perfect, orphaned and unnamed – is interesting, if not altogether likeable. There are moments I really identify with her and her bonkers project, though I know much less of the wealth she enjoys or the privilege afforded to her by her beauty and breeding.
As we learn more about her post-hibernation life through a slew of bittersweet flashbacks and anecdotes, we get a window into a privileged life that may have been starved of the things that traditionally matter, like love and affection. Her borderline abusive relationship with on-off fuck boy Trevor doesn’t help and the friendship she tolerates with Reva is also dysfunctional to say the least – love/hate all the way. While Reva – who’s insanely jealous of her thin, beautiful friend – provides the dark comedy via her own misguided love affair and self-help mantras – there’s also some relief to be found in Dr. Tuttle – possibly the most irresponsible doctor in literary history.
I love the characterisation, the detail and the setting. The scenes in which she’s forced to retrace her steps after blacking out in the night are gold and I love her interactions with the owners of the bodega. There’s a bohemian flavour to this – but it’s set against a backdrop about to change forever (9/11). Our girl falls deeper into her drug-fueled state and prepares for her final metamorphosis – will she emerge anew at the other end or will this lifestyle get her first?
There’s more to it than that of course but I can’t do it justice really. All you need to know is that I rate it and absolutely devoured it in a day. I read Moshfegh’s Elaine last year and I really enjoyed that as well, though I thought this was the better book. I’d definitely like to read more from her.