My Year of Rest and Relaxation is, in a word, wicked. It’s wicked both in the sense that it is cruel, unkind, and sometimes downright mean, and in the sense that it is really, really good. It’s also wickedly funny.
Moshfegh’s unnamed narrator is adrift: her parents are dead, and, with her combination of inheritance and investments has no real need to work. She is young, beautiful, wealthy, and directionless. By some twisted logic, she decides that an entire year of sleep, drugged up to the eyeballs, may be a kind of rebirth. A year of rest may be just the thing she needs to stop hating everything and everyone around her.
The story takes place in mid-2000 Manhattan, and September 11 looms large in the reader’s mind as the weeks and months tick by. Two of the characters – a much maligned ‘best friend’ and an ex-boyfriend – work in the World Trade Centre. The way Moshfegh interweaves 9/11 into the narrative is masterful, avoiding gaudy horror while staying true to the reality of the event.
The narrator engages the services of Dr Tuttle, who is almost universally acknowledged – in reviews and reader discussions – as the worst psychiatrist in the history of fiction. Dr Tuttle provides prescriptions for a veritable smorgasbord of sleeping pills. While the narrator gets justifiably irritated at having to repeat the fact that her parents are dead over and over, she is aware that no other psychiatrist in New York would be so irresponsible as to provide endless prescriptions for hard sedatives that Dr Tuttle does, and so they are stuck together.
The story pivots on various points: her interactions with her friend Reva, who insists on visiting and confiding in the narrator no matter how badly she’s treated; her ruminations over her ex-boyfriend Trevor, who is the personification of garbage; and the things she does in her sleep. The narrator wakes to deliveries of things she’s ordered online and has no recollection of, as well as more worrying realisations of having been out and partied and ate and drank, entirely in her sleep.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a dark, sharp read. The writing is tight and insightful; her observations of human behaviour in times of great sadness and stress hit you where it hurts. This book will make you gasp, make you laugh, and most of all, it will make you feel like a better person purely by virtue of not being the narrator.
Reviewed by Charlotte