My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Author: Ottessa Moshfeg
Publisher: Ottessa Moshfeg
American novelist Ottesa Moshfeg’s third novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, follows an unnamed narrator through a year mainly spent asleep. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Eileen in 2016, and winning many other awards for her collection of short stories Homesick for Another World, published in 2017, Mosheg’s most recent novel has also garnered a great deal of praise.
Set in New York in 2000, the months preceding the September 11 terror attacks cast a pall over the story as a whole, which culminates with the protagonist re-watching the planes flying into the World Trade Centre as she evaluates her own life.
The central character begins “hibernating”, as she puts it, in June 2000, using increasingly strong sleeping agents to keep her in a comatose state for days at a time. She does so to both heal herself through sleep and to avoid the mundanity of her day-to-day existence which includes a meaningless relationship and superficial, yet glamourous work at a Chelsea art gallery.
The drugs are acquired by her truly awful psychiatrist, Dr Tuttle, who, encapsulating some of the novel’s black humour, introduces her tabby as “my eldest” at their first meeting and names microwave ovens as “the biggest threats to brains these days”.
As the story progresses, Dr Tuttle is happy to dole out experimental medication in response to phone calls from the protagonist, putting her to sleep for longer and longer periods of time. This course of treatment negligently sidesteps the obvious problems that the central character needs to face including her grief over the death of both her parents in an accident when she was in college.
Through it all is her steadfast, though estranged best friend Reva, who watches her narcotic induced comas with increasing alarm.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a very funny and engaging story of finding meaning in an increasingly nihilistic world.