Review: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

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Portrait of a Young Woman in White, Jacques-Louis David

Otessa Moshfegh is a master in making readers  feel uncomfortable. Often, her characters come across as  unlikable, unpredictable, and probably the some of the most unusual characters in fiction today. With the announcement of a movie adaptation of her most recent novel starring Emma Stone, I feel it’s especially relevant to discuss her work.

The best-seller ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ seems to have gained popularity at just the right time. The era of self-improvement and self-love seems to be over for many authors, with embracing self-destruction seeming much easier and much more marketable. This can be seen in TikTok trends such as the Girl, Interrupted syndrome and resurgence in popularity of authors like Sylvia Plath and Gillian Flynn with their selfish, cunning, and cruel protagonists.

This is evident in ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’, where the main character is an unnamed narrator. She’s simply described as young, thin, blonde, and pretty, and our narrator is in a slump at the turn of the century. She’s bored with her life, and in response, enters a year-long hibernation caused by a concoction of real and fake medications, all in an attempt to cleanse herself and come out transformed, like a butterfly emerging from   a chrysalis. This, of course, is not recommended to readers.

Many reviewers love this book, praising it for being real, relatable, and savagely funny. Isabel Dexter, an Elle reviewer, said ‘This is the first book I couldn’t put down this year… Almost offensive with its close-to-the-bone truths, it’s shockingly relatable. And legitimately laugh-out-loud funny. Ottessa Moshfegh is sharp, savage and hilarious.’ I disagree

This, to me, is almost stomach-churning because it seems that the purpose behind this book as commentary on the rich and privileged is lost on many, but it also highlights what makes the book itself unappealing. None of the cast of Moshfegh’s novel are meant to be relatable, because her writing is meant to scream in big neon letters that they are bad people, and likely will always be if they don’t change their behaviour.

‘My Year of Rest and Rest and Relaxation’ is, at its core, a satire. It’s meant to be a mockery and critique of wealthy and white young adults but it appears that very demographic is drawn to this novel. This isn’t to say that the narrator is  completely unrelatable, because in many instances she can feel very much like you or me. The narrator is struggling in her most of her relationships and has points where she feels relatable, stating in one line that ‘I loved Reva, but I didn’t like her anymore’. This line can hit close to home for many people struggling with friendships and relationships and was a sympathetic detail of the character. However, this is closely followed by her stating that ‘her desperation was especially irritating’ in relation to Reva’s mother’s struggle with cancer, which was an unpleasant 180° on how she views the emotions of the people around her.

The rapid change from relatable comments to cruel insults is what turned  me off this book, because it felt like the author was confused about what message she was trying to send to her readers. Of course, characters can be multi-faceted, but Moshfegh seems to not have found this balance, at least not yet.

“My Year of Rest and Relaxation” is a book suggested for Grades 9+

 

If you like the sound of this book, try …

 

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

 

Girl, Interrupted by Sussana Kaysen

 

Bunny by Mona Awad