“I looked like a model, had money I hadn’t earned, wore real designer clothing, had majored in art history, so I was ‘cultured’.” So says the unnamed narrator of Ottessa Moshfegh’s recent novel, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”.
The narrator decides to sleep away a year of her life on sleeping drugs prescribed by her unethical (and crazy) psychiatrist, Dr Tuttle, for reasons that are not entirely clear. All she has by way of a social life is her “best friend” Reva, whom she appears to despise. The narrator broods on her memories of her dead parents, and a troubled love affair with a man named Trevor. She resigns from her job at an art gallery, and later enlists the help of a trendy artist to treat her as a “project” while she sleeps.
She dreams, she sleepwalks – venturing out of her New York apartment on strange sorties, and ordering all manner of goods and services online – and broods on the foibles of the modern world with cynical clarity.
Moshfegh’s novel is laced with bitter humour as her narrator inhabits this claustrophic world of pill-induced sleep, her interior life a stark examination of a friend she dislkes, parents she barely knew, and a masochistic relationship with her ex-boyfriend.
Despite some engaging writing, this claustrophic interior world, driven by grief, depression or some form of anomie, runs the danger of becoming bogged down in its own inaction. While there is no law of fiction that requires engagement with the world, a static interior life is a challenging proposition to portray in a novel. Just as boredom is difficult to write about without being boring, withdrawal into oneself and contempt for everything around you runs the risk of losing dramatic traction.
Ottessa Moshfegh, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”. 288 pages.
Penguin Press, 2018