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REVIEW: My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Book review of ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’
Cover+of+My+Year+of+Rest+and+Relaxation+from+the+painting+Portrait+of+a+Young+Woman+in+White+by+Jacques-Louis+David.
Cover of ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ from the painting Portrait of a Young Woman in White by Jacques-Louis David.

I have seen this book all over TikTok and Instagram, and I finally caved in and decided to read it.

“My Year of Rest and Relaxation” is a 304 page novel by up and coming novelist Ottessa Moshfegh. Following up her award winning and film adapted novel “Eileen,” “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” follows a woman who attempts to drown her depression by sleeping through an entire year, aided by the use of sleeping pills.

I had read two of Moshfegh’s work prior to it; “McGlue,” about a drunken sailor that tries to remember the killing of his friend and “Lapvona,” a tale of a fictional medieval village ruled by a feeble and corrupt ruler. I was fairly hopeful this book would live up to my expectations considering the vast amount of positive feedback I have seen on social media. But after finishing it, I still have mixed feelings about it.

Plot

It starts off with the main character, who is left unnamed, who has been a few weeks into a mission of sleeping through an entire year by using medications which are dispensed from a loose handed psychiatrist. The book switches back and forth of the MC’s (main character’s) past and what is happening in the present. It becomes known the MC has suffered childhood trauma from her absent parents passing and emotional abuse from a past fling. She is described as an extremely beautiful and knowledgeable woman who graduated from the renowned Columbia University.

The entire book consists of her past experiences from her childhood and working at a modern art exhibit, then the weird experiences she has while taking her medication, such as letting a past coworker from the art exhibit use her sleeping as an art piece. She has zero desire to change her lifestyle because she is waiting for her ‘awakening’ and gets mad at others when they tell her she should try to change. Also, the MC is obsessed with Whoopi Goldberg, like obsessed.

However, the character tends to be hateful yet jealous of her old college roommate, Reva’s life. While the MC lives comfortably off of her wealthy deceased parents money and looks like an ‘off-shift model’, she yearns to live in a lower middle class apartment and work a 9-5 job like Reva. Considering the book is set in New York City beginning in late 2000, you can tell the whole book is leading up to the inevitable that happens in 2001. About 50 pages to the end of the book, Reva is moved to the World Trade Center after her manager that she’s been having an affair with gets rid of her with a promotion.

At the end, the MC wakes from her last pill induced slumber and begins her life again. She feels brand new, and only a few pages later, the World Trade Center is attacked on 9/11, and Reva dies. That is where the book ends.

The entire book was full of past dramas and mistakes, and the odd circumstances the MC gets herself into by taking her pills. Overall, the MC was extremely hateful and self-centered, until she finished her rest and felt brand new. For me, it was interesting to see how the MC overcame her attitude with sleep. The book was okay for me, but I do have some complaints.

Negatives

  • The MC is incredibly unlikable. She is extremely narcissistic and angry, which is understandable for someone who is going through severe depression, but it makes it impossible to enjoy her character. I couldn’t tell if Moshfegh wanted the reader to feel bad for the MC, but I just felt annoyed at her attitude and her unwillingness to do anything.
  • The ending felt very rushed and out of nowhere. The MC only finished her rest after over 270 pages, then immediately Reva died on 9/11. There is no follow up, just the news of the attack and her death. I would’ve preferred if Moshfegh included how the MC coped with Reva’s death, since the rest of the people in her life either left her or passed away. Originally, the book was supposed to be about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but Moshfegh decided to not follow through even after discussing with a terrorism expert. This struck me as odd that she decided to keep the end in, and made it feel like an excuse to kill off Reva so the MC could ‘grow’ as a person.

Positives

Although I was left more a negative view of the book, I still enjoyed other parts of it.

  • Reva was so refreshing. Having Reva lifted the mood of the story and added humanity. Even at the MC’s lowest and angriest, Reva was still there to tell her how much she loved and cared for her. Reva genuinely wanted the best for the MC and sincerely cared for her, even though the MC could care less about her.
  • The MC was witty. Because of her negativity, the witty remarks she would occasionally make was a way to break the depressing mood she created.

When I wrote the book, my passion and anger were located much more outwardly and so the tone of the narrator, who I think a very angry person, is not something I relate to anymore.

— Ottessa Moshfegh, 2018

Moshfegh herself expressed her disdain for the MC’s attitude, quoting in an interview with Jezebel, “It felt maybe not directly in terms of its storyline, – an expression of what was happening to me in my life and what my concerns were. I feel like the book was successful in that I graduated out of a lot of those concerns by writing the book.”

Honestly, the book left a sour taste in my mouth. I can see why the MC acted the way she did considering the book was a way for Moshfegh to vent and express the emotions she was feeling at the moment, but it wasn’t an enjoyable read for me. The MC’s downer attitude spread like a virus and had zero positive traits. If you like psychological dramas, I would recommend reading it for yourself so you can come to your own conclusion. I enjoy them myself, but this story wasn’t worth 300 pages.

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About the Contributor
Mallory Mills, Print Co-Editor-In-Chief; Yearbook Section Editor
Mallory Mills is a senior at West High and this is her second year on yearbook and the Wahawk Insider staff. She is a reporter for the Wahawk Insider and is the People and Clubs/Orgs section editor for Yearbook. Outside of school, Mallory is usually listening to music, spending time with her family and friends, or attending a concert.
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