Reed Books: My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Jess Reed, Editor

My Year of Rest and Relaxation was a very surprising letdown.

I’d heard it was amazing. Ottessa Moshfegh is one of the highest praised contemporary authors, and with my love for unloveable female protagonists, I thought this novel would be the perfect fit for me.

It wasn’t.

To be fair, the book is adored by every critic out there, and most readers like it too, so if you’re considering picking it up, go for it. It’s short enough that it won’t be a bad investment, but for all the hype, I expected something much better. The book follows an unnamed protagonist living in New York City in the year 2000. She’s gorgeous and rich and obsessed with hibernation after the deaths of her parents (not that she really loved them, or anyone, anyway) because she thinks she can emerge as a new person. She gets intentionally addicted to pills that help her sleep, convinced she will be Better when she wakes up.

The weird thing is that it works.

Well, not for the first three-fourths of the novel. Intentionally plotless, the narrator meanders around her own life, not doing much. I can forgive a lack of plot if you replace it with a character-driven narrative, but there’s so little character that Moshfegh can’t quite get away with it. Finally, when the narrator figures out her sleeping system, she wakes up a different person. She goes outside again, reborn.

That’s… fine. It’s okay. But the lack of commentary about anything in this book at all is a huge letdown. Is this a satire? Genuine? Feminist? Non-feminist? I can excuse a lack of perspective if Moshfegh replaced it with literally anything else at all. She doesn’t.

So if we can’t have characters or plot or commentary, can we have prose? Not really. The writing is simple, which again, is fine, if Moshfegh made up for it in any way. The author seems set on writing unlikeable protagonists, but we don’t even have a protagonist to not like. To hate something, that something must exist.

Overall, My Year of Rest and Relaxation is as sleepy and tired as the protagonist. Its half-hearted attempts at existentialism remind me of Catcher in the Rye, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.