For the average person, seven to nine hours of sleep are necessary in order to function normally. What would, however, happen if we’d decide to go to bed for a whole entire year? Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel might give us an answer.
“Sleep felt productive,“ says the unnamed narrator of Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2018 novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation. “Something was getting sorted out. I knew in my heart — this was, perhaps, the only thing my heart knew back then — that when I’d slept enough, I’d be okay. I’d be renewed, reborn. I would be a whole new person, every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant, foggy memories. My past life would be but a dream, and I could start over without regrets, bolstered by the bliss and serenity that I would have accumulated in my year of rest and relaxation.”
And in a way, so begins an odyssey through modern life. In a mere 290 pages, this American author tells a bizarre tale of hibernation and consumerism, nihilism, and the deep desire to, despite it all, find meaning and a reason to persevere.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a book like no other. Bitter and sarcastic, at times oddly funny and detached at others, it’s a story of a beautiful, successful, and rich young woman, who, utterly depressed, decides to sleep for the following year. Heavily abusing different legal (and sometimes illegal) sleeping pills prescribed to her by her highly questionable therapist, doctor Tuttle, our main character goes on a journey of rest, ready to awaken at the end of it as a whole new and changed person.
Through her many benders and blackouts, what we get is a mixture of detachment and reminiscence. The narrator tells us about her childhood, her distant parents, her manipulative and abusive ex-boyfriend, and her toxic friendship with her so-called best friend Riva, yet it’s as if she does so through a deep fog. Emotions, as heavy and real as they were once when she was going through them, now only seem to her as something that had happened long ago. A place she can describe, but one she hasn’t lived in for a very long time.
“The world was out there still,“ says our narrator, „but I hadn’t looked at it in months. It was too much to consider in all, stretching out, a circular planet covered in creatures and things growing, all of it spinning slowly on an axis created by what — some freak accident? It seemed implausible.”
With countless to-the-point moments, the author portrays a real sense of what the 21st century really looks like. Art has lost its meaning, having replaced artists with social climbers aiming only looking for new ways to shock their audiences. Television and movies serve as a distraction from the voids of despair. The endless choices we have, whether they relate to the type of food we buy at our local bodega or the types of things we spend our free time on, just nurture our fantasies instead of helping us face reality.
“Nothing seemed really real,“ writes Moshfegh. „Sleeping, waking, it all collided into one gray, monotonous plane ride through the clouds. I didn’t talk to myself in my head. There wasn’t much to say. This was how I knew the sleep was having an effect: I was growing less and less attached to life. If I kept going, I thought, I’d disappear completely, then reappear in some new form. This was my hope. This was my dream.”
Through the character of Reva, Moshfegh tackles your average everyday woman. Reva is self-conscious and insecure. She’s dissatisfied with her life, her appearance, her relationships, and her work, but revolts, not against them, but against her own self. While our narrator tries to sleep her problems away, Reva faces them through her auto-aggression, mindless shopping for things she can’t afford, self-help courses, and a deeply rooted eating disorder. In many ways, she is a true reflection of what the beauty and wellness industries can do to an individual and how the exploitation of our minds and bodies in the favor of capitalism can thoroughly ruin us from within.
While being many things, My Year of Rest and Relaxation is, at its core, a social commentarry. It’s a wake-up call and a cry for help, a satire, and a work of philosophy. It’s the kind of book you can’t forget once you read it and one that will change your views on life forever.
Try not to sleep on it for too long.
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