It's early 2000 on New York City's Upper East Side, and the alienation of Moshfegh's unnamed young protagonist from others is nearly complete when she initiates her yearlong siesta, during which time she experiences limited personal interactions. Her parents have died; her relationships with her bulimic best friend Reva, an ex-boyfriend, and her drug-pushing psychiatrist are unwholesome. As her pill-popping intensifies, so does her isolation and determination to leave behind the world's travails. She is also beset by dangerous blackouts induced by a powerful medication.
This fascinating book satirizes the art world, and explores with dark humor what is often left unsaid in familial and other relationships. Recommended for readers who don't need to like the characters to find a book worthwhile.
More later about a twenty something woman who chooses pill popping and permanent sleep for a year as a life fixer, seen through the eyes of a forty something reader, who happens to be a woman who has been on permanent leave from work and still struggles with after effects of a spectacular burnout from a thriving career after twelve years, partially due to overworking on a grand manic scale and mental illness, and who long resisted taking her meds because never much liked the idea of popping pills to begin with and always had a deeply disliked self obsessed overprivileged bitches only concerned with their own looks and sex.
Plenty of good bits in there and I did at first take it as a case study in a radically different approach to finding mental health and kept telling myself that I was enjoying this book from that perspective, and that worked up to a point, but it was awfully repetitive what with the constant and rather random pill popping and the endless cruel putting down of the alcoholic, bullimic fawning Jewish friend and the endless references to her own tall blonde WASPish model good looks. I guess it’s all supposed to be a good joke, the narcissism and all, but Gag Me With a Spoon, won’t you?! I hear Moshfegh’s short stories are awfully good though. Looking forward to those.
Maybe that just about sums it up after all. I’ll decide when I’ve simmered down and read myself again whether this constitutes my official review, but it probably does. Because I’ll be damned when the day comes I have to convince myself ever again I like something just because it’s the popular thing right now, eh?!
People looking for a well-written, fairly quick read of no consequence, whose characters are all unappealing, especially the protagonist.
In a nutshell:
Orphaned rich woman (no name given, which I didn’t realize until I went to write this review) decides the way she wants to deal with her life is by sleeping. So she find a doctor who is willing to prescribe her all manner of sleeping pills.
‘It’s not about the men,’ she said. ‘Women are so judgmental. They’re always comparing.’
‘But why do you care? It’s not a contest.’
‘Yes, it is. You just can’t see it because you’ve always been the winner.’
Why I chose it:
I have picked this book up in shops probably a half-dozen times. Now that it’s in paperback I finally decided to get it. I’m glad, if only because my curiosity is well-sated.
This was a quick read, for sure. But I did not enjoy it. When I finished it, I wondered what I’d missed. Was this satire - a mocking of all those sort-of coming-of-age books written by white men about young white men? No? It’s just a character study? Huh.
Author Moshfegh is talented, for sure. The book is easy to read, the scenes evocative and well-thought-out. I have a strong picture in my mind of every place described, and a real feeling about each place. But the overall idea of the book, the main concept, the plot, just didn’t work for me at all. As it moved along I sort of got a bit of why the protagonist was doing what she was doing. I think?
Was she depressed? Probably. But was that what was fueling her desire to sleep? Or was she just ill-equipped for the world? Honestly? I didn’t care. Was I supposed to care? Unclear. Like I said, I might have missed something, but maybe not. Maybe it just wasn’t my thing. Entertainment Weekly said “One of the most compelling protagonists modern fiction has offered in years” and just … no. I disagree.
Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
The appeal of her plan is obvious -- who hasn't longed to just take a few days off to rest when the world becomes overwhelming? And who hasn't wanted to be able to improve their life and become a totally new person without having to actually be conscious for any of the work or consequences involved? It's Moshfegh's genius that her novel recognizes the universal nature of these desires but also indicts the basic selfishness behind them. Of course we want to skip over the easy parts of being adults in the world, but it's just evidence of how craven and disgusting we all really are, just like the protagonist.
I was a bit conflicted about the ending of the book -- I thought it didn't quite work as Moshfegh intended -- but her writing is beautifully readable, even when describing emotions and experiences that most people would turn away from. Definitely an ambitious and mostly successful work!
By Ottessa Moshfegh
When a beautiful, Columbia graduated women living in Yorkville, Upper East Side NY, decides to take a year off to deal with her depression, living on her inheritance, it changes her life. But not her depression. Over medicated by her psychiatrist, Dr. Tuttle, she spends her time worked at the Ducet Fine Art Gallery in Soho (the art described here really stretches the imagination), sleeping, and watching her VHS tapes she buys almost daily at a local thrift shop. Soon she is trying to navigate through her life in a dream like state.
" I felt myself float up and away, higher and higher into the ether until my body was just an anecdote, a symbol, a potrait hanging in another world."
" 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."
One of my fave authors....this was a great character read, and was actually pretty humorous at times. Recommended!
So my love of Whoopi began with Star Trek: The Next Generation. For those who do not know, she played Guinan, the ship's bartender. Despite her secondary role, Guinan was my favorite character from that series. So already I was impressed with My Year of Rest and Relaxation for the unnamed narrator's fascination with Goldberg. But when I found out her obsession began with Guinan—oh, Ottessa, you have captured my heart. I digress...
And I still haven't sold you on this book, have I?
Okay, Moshfegh has a way of making a simple story semi-interesting. No, My Year... is certainly not riveting, but the beauty of the language and the inner workings of the narrator's mind are engaging. Perhaps this novel reached a point about two-thirds of the way through when it began to feel like the idea had run its course, but that final third wasn't a drag by any means. Part of why this book succeeds is, I think, because Moshfegh is in no way heavy-handed with the connections she makes to an apathetic people, a dying art scene, and a wake-up call. The few characters who revolve around our narrator's world are unlikable and played for humor, which worked, but didn't allow me to grow close to any of them. This leaves only the narrator who is over-privileged and despicable in her own ways, but at least she understands a love of Guinan. (Sometimes all you need is Whoopi.)
It's not easy to convince anyone to read a book about a woman who sleeps. And that's okay, because many readers probably won't love My Year of Rest and Relaxation. At times, it's slow, dry, and depressing. I think with all things Moshfegh writes, it either subtly grows on you, or it doesn't.
In My Year of Rest and Relaxation, the protagonist is a well-off, pretty young blonde woman with a nice apartment in Manhattan. She finds an utterly incompetent psychiatrist willing to write her an ever increasing number of prescriptions for various sedative, anti-depressants and sleeping aids and sets out to enjoy a year of unconsciousness. It doesn't quite go the way she'd envisioned. Her only friend keeps showing up and she keeps needing new pharmaceuticals to stay asleep.
The character in this novel begin as shallow, unpleasant person and while she remains true to herself, Moshfegh forces her to develop and grow despite her intense desire to avoid everything. This is one of the best novels I've read this year.
Ottessa Moshfegh is a US-American writer who earned a degree in Creative Writing from Brown University and whose short stories were received with positive reviews. After her novella “McGLue”, her first novel “Eileen” was published in 2015 and made it on the shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. Having chosen a mostly unsympathetic protagonist for her former novel, I found it much easier so sympathise with her narrator in “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”.
The young woman who is portrayed is quite typical in a certain way. She is the modern New Yorker who takes part in the glittery art circus, is a part of a subculture of believes itself to be highly reflective and innovative. At a certain point, the superficiality becomes exhausting and the aimless tittle-tattle and prattle don’t provide any deeper insight.
“The art at Ducat was supposed to be subversive irreverent, shocking, but was all just canned counterculture crap, “punk, but with money”.
Also her relationship does not go beyond superficial sex and one-night-stands that lead to nothing. Added to this is the easy availability of all kinds of drugs, of therapists who themselves are too crazy to detect any serious illness in their clients and therefore just fill in any prescription they are asked for. Even though the plot starts in 2000, the characters are quite typical for the 1990s and they need a major event to wake them up and bring them back to real life.
The narrator tries to flee the world and takes more and more pills mixed with each other, as a result she is sleepwalking, even gets a new haircuts and orders masses of lingerie without knowing. Her radius is limited to her blog, her only human contacts are the Egyptians at the bodega at the corner where she buys coffee, the doorman of her apartment house and Reva, her best friend who still cares about her. Even though she is bothered by the things she does when she is not awake, she has become that addicted that she cannot let go anymore.
Even though the protagonist is highly depressive and seeing how badly she copes with her life is hard to endure in a way, the novel is also hilarious. I especially liked her meetings with her therapist since Dr. Tuttle is riotous in her eccentric ways and their dialogues are highly comical – despite the earnestness of their actual topics. Ottessa Moshfegh most certainly earns a place among to most relevant authors of today.
I had to keep checking the cover art of "My Year of Rest and Relaxation" to be reassured that it didn't have some sort of macabre twist to it like the covers of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", "Dawn of the Dreadfuls" or "Pride and Prejudice and Vampires". Nope, every time it was still a straight reproduction of "Portrait of a Young Woman in White" (c1798) by the School of Jacques-Louis David.
Such was the unsettled feeling left by Moshfegh's new novel which steps away from the noirish crime fiction of her earlier novel "Eileen' but still has disturbing elements that it shares with the short stories of "Homesick for Another World" swings between parody humour of the modern art world and an existential crisis of the narrator who has convinced herself that a year of hibernation will be the cure of her modern world ennui. She seeks that solution with the aid of a tame pill-prescribing psychiatrist and a fictional drug named Infermiterol (which puts this somewhat into a noirish science-fiction realm).
It was compulsive reading and entertaining as Moshfegh always is, but slightly wore out its welcome over novel length. There was also an element of predictability to it about which it would be a spoiler to say much more except that setting books at certain times and places in history will inevitably cause the reader to guess the conclusion which will result from that choice.
The book is centered on a good-looking, privileged young woman living her NYC life on a wealthy inheritance. She's normally the most attractive woman in any room, has a stunning wardrobe, lives in a great apartment, yet she decides that her life would be so much better, she would be a better person, if only she slept more. She embarks on a life of narcotic hibernation. A willing doctor with no qualms about prescribing enough heavy-duty drugs to knock out a grizzly bear, makes her hibernation possible. The book is littered with the drug brand names that knock her out for many hours each day.
Her parents are dead, her "best friend" has no real attachment to her, an experimental artist she knows only see her as a project. Trevor, her Wall Street "boyfriend" is another very odd relationship in her life, and it eventually collapses under it own lovelessness. Other than these characters, there are only the non-relationships she has with her building's doorman, and the corner store clerks. The book starts with her working a job she certainly doesn't need or have much of a connection with, and it disappears. Numerous flashbacks show her upbringing in a family household of severely-stunted feelings, the family member mostly just cohabitate.
The word bleak entered my mind repeatedly as I read this dark story. Yet, through all the drugs, the lack of any real attachments -- other than to her pills -- the book takes you deep into our main character's most unusual head.
The last part of her hibernation is even more intense. She gives away practically all her furniture, clothes, and other belongings, has the locks changed so she cannot leave her apartment, arranges for the artist to bring her minimal food and such, and then embarks on three months of a bizarre "rehab." She uses only forty of the strongest pills -- the ones that knock her out for three days each -- and starts her program. The schedule: take a pill, followed by three days of unconsciousness (during which the gay artist comes with some supplies and can film or record her in any way he wants for his art project), followed by her coming to and a short period to eat cold pizza, shower, and then it's time for another pill, and the next three days down.
Does she rehabilitate herself?
What is the final art project?
Is she a happier, a better person?
Those answers are all in the last pages of this intensely different and rewarding novel.
It's a clever, dark, trying, painful at times, very original, and well-written novel.