Otessa Moshfegh has created a name for herself among authors who have mastered the art of portraying human emotions like depression and apathy. After Eileen, her Man Booker-nominated work, My Year of Rest and Relaxation is another brutal story bringing to surface the despised and pitiful side of humans. The book explores the classic theme of metamorphosis from the 1990s that were years of simplicity and innocence to the 2000s where terrorist attacks, panic, and anxiety. A voice like no one else’s in the room, Otessa Moshfegh gives you an awful lot to think with this book.
Our unnamed narrator has lived a life of desolation with only a few luxurious to claim as hers. Growing up, she hasn’t had the love and attention of her parents. Now that they are dead, the only other people in her life are her ‘on again, off again’ boyfriend who she has a toxic relationship with and her best friend, whom she despises. Trying to get out from this bout with depression, she decides to go on a year-long ‘hibernation’ – packing herself within the four walls of her apartment and sleeping for days, doing nothing. An irresponsible psychiatrist recommends her sedatives to help her stay in this self-induced semi-coma state. The narrator is of the opinion that she will come out of this hibernation as a new person – like a phoenix rising from ashes.
Her cowardice gets the better of her and she believes she will wake up having forgotten all the pain and desperation that made her take this step in the first place.
‘Nothing else could ever bring me such pleasure, such freedom… safe from the miseries of my waking consciousness.’
The process of rest and relaxation is repeated in the book, happening day after day with only a few events changing. Some days it is the therapist that the narrator she tolerates, other days it is her friend. The author tries to describe the process of depression through these repetitive processes. The loathsome character traits of the narrator surface with each passing day – her hatred of all things makes the reader pity her. She hates her body while obsessing over the build of other women. She is extremely disrespectful to her friend too. It is partly her wealth and partly her hatred for everything that makes her so unpleasant. After a point, it is impossible to remember that she is undergoing a mental illness since her attitude towards others does nothing to show a lot of empathy in her.
Moshfegh’s take on black humor and efforts at bringing out the unfiltered human unpleasantness in her books is what sets her writing apart. There are two ways of looking at the story – a helpless young woman on the Upper East Side caught between Trevor, Reva and the psychiatrist or a woman who is a coward, a hateful woman abusing what life has offered her while obsessing about what she couldn’t have. There is the perspective that says even someone like the narrator who seems to have everything you would want to can be suffering below the surface. The other perspective argues why could she not build a life from what she had? It is in no way justified to expect that you can sleep and dream away your pain, waking up more content. Read the book and find out for yourself.
Release date: July 10th, 2018
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