Through the years literature has given a lot of perspectives on life. All these perspectives depict one common thing though- life is not the same for everyone. Under every roof a different story unfolds every day. Every apartment window has a different soul peeping into the life outside. Everyone is going through their own struggles. While someone’s life may look the exact impression of perfection, the person could be battling a whole another set of demons. In My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh brings to life a story of such a life which would seem perfect from a third person perspective, but has its own dark sides in itself. The novel follows the life of the protagonist of the novel, a wealthy and beautiful young woman as she tumbles down life.
Our protagonist is a complex character. She seems to be clear in what she wants and from life and goes about it in confident treading. However, she suffers from a gaping vacuum inside her.
She is beautiful, rich, young woman, living in the upper east side of Manhattan, has an easy job, and pretty much has everything in life that one could ask for to be and feel “happy”. But as it turns out serotonin is not that easy a gain. Satisfaction seems to be a far cry for our heroine. She cannot escape the black hole she is becoming day by day. It is not just her parents’ deaths, and neither is it the absence of a stable love life. She feels dull over all.
She decides to drink life away. However, she does not get drunk on life though. Drugs and drinks become a way for her to evade the “boring” reality. She badly craves a break and she understands that. She takes a break and coils herself inside her apartment. However, her fighting style just secures her inevitable loss as troubles would still be waiting for her, her issues still to be resolved, as she wakes up from her hibernation.
The primary pot does not have much to discuss about. The main attraction of the novel in its portrayal of life and its characters. It is a lesson on addiction. It tells you that coiling yourself up inside your own little apartment is not the way out of situations that life hurl at you.
Our protagonist has nothing to pull her down in life; apparently. She has a job, stable financial background, good looks, and everything else one could possibly ask for to have a “good life”. She is the “the bitch who sat behind a desk and ignored you when you walked in”. She is the kind of woman every one of us would life to be. Despite all that though, all that our heroine experiences is a deep sense of isolation. And instead of trying to reach out to life, she decides to coil up inside an apartment room and sleep her life away.
The image that the novel portrays, despite its witty (and sometimes dark) humor, and intelligent writing style, the story has a rather sad lining. It is a story about loss and fatigue. Even though it is easy to preach that you cannot let the stress defeat you, a tired soul would know that it is sometimes not that easy to keep moving on. Sometimes the stress gets to you and it keeps overshadowing you, turning you into a bitter person. Moshfegh portrays this bitterness exactly in her novel. She is known to portray her characters in the raw light of life. Her characters are known to become the gross and grotesque representations of people. These representations on more occasions turn out to be authentic too. In My Year of Rest and Relaxation, for instance, the protagonist attempts to evade reality- a dream of many of us. However, failure is the only eventuality.
Imagery is something that Moshfegh makes use of in a very witty manner. Starting right from the cover page, the repeated and essential images of loneliness is consistent through the pages of the novel. It projects that loneliness and isolation is essential to life, but alienation can never be a solution to our troubles. They would always be waiting at your doorstep once your hibernation is over. Our protagonist lacks this balance between isolation and life and chooses the former as a means to escape her increasing dissonance with life.
The language is simple but speaks of characters and patches of life that we would not be willing to counter. Most parts of life depicted by Moshfegh are parts that we would want to gloss over.
When you see the world through the eyes of the protagonist, everything and everyone seems deserving of hate. Everything seems dull and boring; even herself. She is not devoid of emotions though. When her father dies, is one moment when we get a very legitimate (albeit brief) insight into her soul. She understands that she is becoming less and less attached to life, but cannot stop doing the same either. It is probably life as had happened to her that made her increasingly indifferent towards all that life is and all that it offers. Her coping mechanisms did not help either.
Moshfegh is known for presenting the ugliest versions of people, with intricate authenticity. She portrays real characters. There is no caressing warmth of a motherly warmth that tells you to relax and that everything will be fine. If you like books that discuss the harshness of life, the struggles of being the kind of tired that no amount of sleep could ever undo, then this would be a read that you would thoroughly enjoy. The book is about a woman who does not like the person she is becoming, tries to “disappear” and then “reappear” as a better person, but cannot seem to find her way through the journey. If you think you might relate, go ahead! You would not regret.
The book is not a recommendation if you are more inclined on glossier and more romantic representations of life though. Moshfegh portrays the ruthless harshness that life commits upon us at times with intricate details. So if you are not a fan of such grotesque and authentic representation of life, this might be a book you would want to steer clear of.