University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

Review: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Megan Delaney

ByMegan Delaney

May 14, 2024

TW: Mention of eating disorders

“Oh, sleep. Nothing else could ever bring me such pleasure, such freedom, the power to feel and move and think and imagine, safe from the miseries of my waking consciousness.”

If Moshfegh’s aim was to write a book that divided readers, with alternating responses of praise or hate, then she has done exceedingly well. I have never had such a long list of bad things to say about a book than I do for <i>‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’</i>. After seemingly glowing reviews online, I was urged that as a lover of feminist literature and a fan of other works such as <i>‘The Bell Jar’</i>, then Moshfegh’s literary novel was the perfect fit for me. However, after reading all 304 pages, all I wanted back was the ten hours I wasted trying to finish it, and the £5.99 I spent on buying it.

The book focuses on a twenty-something unnamed and unlikeable protagonist who, quite literally, prescription drug-induces herself into a year-long slumber to sleep away her depression in hopes of waking up a new person. Set in the 2000s, the story follows the young woman’s inner monologue as she spends her waking hours either with her best (and only) friend Reva, or her kooky therapist who supplies her with a never-ending supply of prescription drugs. The protagonist is also experiencing a heavy depression following the recent deaths of her barely-there parents, and how she navigates life with her large sum of inheritance and extravagant Manhattan apartment.

The cover of this book, displaying a classic 1798 painting by Jacques-Louis David, gives the allure that you’re about to read an elegantly written piece of literature. Lovers of this story praise it for being a wonderfully curated piece of satire, claiming to find its depiction of mental illness relatable and pleasurable to read. After such reviews, as someone who has struggled with depression for many years, I was excited to read this and feel seen. While I can agree that there are certain parts of the book that illustrate the feelings of monotony and hopelessness that accompany depression rather well, the poorly written characters and lack of coherent plot make it difficult to appreciate.

The protagonist of the book is portrayed as being unpleasant and disrespectful, mostly to her best friend Reva. A reoccurring topic throughout the novel is Reva’s eating disorder, which is only ever used as the punchline about how the protagonist is ‘perfection’ in comparison to her friend. When asked about the unlikability of the protagonist in an interview, Moshfegh says that the most interesting characters are the villains and that readers usually don’t like them because they see parts of themselves that they don’t like reflected in bad people. I understand the point she makes, but that’s not why I dislike the main character. I dislike her not because she’s mean, but because she is incredibly boring to read about. People argue that the book represents how depression has the ability to make the world seem boring and has the ability to make those who suffer from it unlikeable, but that doesn’t mean the fiction about it has to be so dull.

Fans of Moshfegh celebrate her for writing about the dark side of human nature and creating characters who are inherently bad people. However, the book reads like a badly written parody spin-off of a <i>Gossip Girl</i> episode. I think it’s one thing to write characters about unlikeable women but to write complete caricatures feels quite distasteful. Throughout the book, the characters face numerous traumatic experiences, but with very little afterthought about the impacts. For example, the entire premise of the plot is that a girl is repeatedly overdosing on prescription drugs, yet there is no mention of any inevitable side effects. The whole thing just feels very forced and sporadic, with little reason or meaning behind the entire book.

In the end, <i>‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’</i> leaves readers divided, and at least I can give Moshfegh credit for her creation of strong lovers and haters of her work. Is it a masterpiece of satirical brilliance or simply a poorly executed parody? That’s up to you.

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