‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ by Ottessa Moshfegh – Book Review

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh was one of the most well-written yet frustrating books I’ve ever read, and reviewing it in the most thoughtful way is certainly going to be a challenge.

The story follows a possibly unreliable narrator who sets out to “reset” her mental state by effectively sleeping most hours of the day for a year.

I initially thought I would hate the main character simply due to her coming from such a place of privilege that she could simply do such a thing without worrying about work or finances (and that is not an oversight by the author, she is well-off due to an inheritance.) Instead, I found myself getting whiplash about every other chapter or so as I went between hating her and relating to her more than I’d like to admit.

Aside from the narrator, we have Dr. Tuttle, her “eclectic” therapist who has no issue with handing out prescriptions like Halloween candy, and her best friend Reva. Our narrator sort of loathes Reva, and much of the book is spent discussing the friendship and how needy Reva is for it while the narrator grapples with her thoughts that Reva’s issues are at the end of the day, not worth her time.

Moshfegh’s prose was truly the standout feature of the novel, and the way she was able to express feelings that are so dark yet somehow so objectively relatable is a true talent, in my opinion. Some of the narrator’s thoughts on her best friend, are things that many of us have likely felt in a friendship at one time or another but never quite understood or knew how to put into words.

I should back up a bit and say that I’m generally team prose > plot if it comes down to one or the other making or breaking a book. In this case, the book is almost entirely plotless, as suggested by the fact that the main character simply wants to sleep for a year. The prose, however, connects the “present” (then 2000-01 in New York City) to the narrator’s childhood, college years, and recent employment at a pretentious art gallery while still primarily focusing on the narrator’s dream of sleeping through the next year in a way that is actually interesting to read.

As for dislikes (and there may be some more concrete spoilers ahead if you haven’t read it yet), the art gallery setup was quite frankly, stupid. I am so tired of this trope in all forms of media, really, where pretentious artists create works that would never be popularized in real life (regardless of the background, level of privelege, notoriety or anything else of the artist). It’s stupid, and I get what writers who fall into this trope are trying to do, but it doesn’t work.

I also spent the entire book hoping that it would not end with 9/11 (given that it started in the year 2000). I’m not saying “don’t write about 9/11 in fiction works,” or anything like that, but for this story, with every passing chapter I worried that ending the book with 9/11 would be a massive cop-out to giving the characters a real ending. (Again, spoilers ahead.)

The more I read, the more I thought that 9/11 was going to be some wakeup call to the narrator to get her to change her ways, and while that is sort of what happened in the end, it wasn’t completely like that (thankfully.) There were two characters who worked at the World Trade Center (initially the narrator’s ex-boyfriend, and later Reva.) Once this was revealed, I assumed they would die in the attacks by the end of the book.

The ex-boyfriend did not, but Reva did, and the narrator (controversially according to the reviews I later read on Goodreads) noted that she imagined Reva was one of the people seen falling off the building and that she looked beautiful. It sounds like a lot of readers hated this ending, but it was…fine. In terms of how I thought it was going to end with the 9/11 factor, it could have gone much worse. I thought it was sort of poetic, but…not good. I don’t even know why it didn’t sit right with me, because my initial reaction to some of the negative comments I’d read about the ending was that I wouldn’t judge the way the narrator in this type of story is relaying any of her feelings around losing a friend on 9/11, but something about it just was not it. (I guess it still ended up feeling a bit like a cop-out.)

As far as final thoughts on the book, I’m going to give it a 3.5/5 stars. I enjoyed reading it minus the art gallery cringe and the final paragraph or so, and if based on pure enjoymenet of the prose I’d give 4, maybe even 4….4.25 stars. But when I consider the entire work and really whether or not it will be memorable to me….3.5.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *