My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

American-Iranian writer, Ottessa Moshfegh (O te zar  MOSH feg) 

I love page 1. This is what I learned from page 1. The female unnamed first person narrator sleeps. When she is not sleeping she slips out of her apartment whenever it might be, day or night, and picks up coffee (stimulant), trazadone (anti-depressant), Amdien (sleeping pills), and Nembutal (more sleeping pills) from a 24-hour bodega. She takes them all, along with animal crackers, while watching movies until she falls asleep. When she thinks of it she orders Thai take-away. Sometimes she hears her phone messages which are, mostly, confirmations of  appointments for spas or salons she has made in her sleep. She cancels them. She hates talking to people.

This all sounds like she’s on a slow slip to depression and eventual suicide. But no. I find out on page 7 that her attempt at hibernation is quite the opposite: self-preservational. She hopes that while sleeping all her cells will re-new themselves, re-align themselves – every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant foggy memories –  so that after a year she will wake up a whole new person with none of the hang-ups, fears, denials, hatreds, annoyances, incapabilities, sensitivities, regrets, and pain of the old one. 

There are other characters too, her best friend Riva, her on-off-on-off boyfriend, Trevor, and her psychiatrist, Dr Tuttle. All, like the protagonist, are bonkers. Or are they just typical Manhattanites in the 21st Century?

By the end of chapter 1 everything is set, and set up. 

At the beginning of chapter 2 we’re back to the beginning of the project. She feels excited, hopeful, and fully prepared for her great transformation

Of course, this being a narrative our first person protagonist often wakes up and the narrative consists of her methods of getting back to sleep again, all drug fuelled. Exercise? Caffeine was my exercise. It catalyzed my anxiety so that I could get back to sleep again. She also wakes to visit her psychiatrist, Dr Tuttle, who’s also mad as a cut-snake and writes down our narrator’s nightmares, which are all a pack of lies and mainly cobbled-together-fragments of bad movie plots, all intended to get more, and stronger, prescription drugs. Actually all her answers to Dr Tuttle’s questions are lies. 

“I was wondering if you could prescribe something a little stronger for bedtime. When I’m tossing and turning at night, I get so frustrated. It’s like I’m in hell.” She lied. 

“Hell? I can give you something for that.”

Her growing armoury or medication, prescriptions and samples from Dr Tuttle, have names like the siblings in second-rate Greek tragedies: Solfoton, Infermiterol, and Zyprexa. 

Not only do we find out what she does when she wakes up, but we also find out what she’s been doing when she’s been asleep: going out for coffee and drugs; ordering Chinese takeaway; rearranging her furniture; buying multiple tubs and multiple flavours of Häagen-Dazs ice cream which she forgets to eat or put in the freezer; booking Brazilians and fake tans; and chatting to guys on dating websites and getting, in return, closeups of their genitals. Thankfully, she too thinks this is going too far and gets her ditzy friend Riva to change her AOL password to something random and confusing so she won’t remember it. She hates Riva, especially when she talks. No, that’s not true, she really loves Riva. Well, actually, she hates her. Erm …

She’s obsessed with Whoopie Goldberg and old movies with predicable plots.

With all these pages of finding numerous ways to fall asleep they are surprisingly entertaining. It’s a hoot! But if you want your fiction characters to be nice and normal, don’t read this book. I wouldn’t want any of them at my lunch table. Nor would you. Trust me!

In fact, one of the attractions that kept me interested was what gross and/or outrageous thing was I going to read next? One day she wakes up in a new fur coat, the smell of which gives her the odd suspicion that she’s had sex with someone; and with a bunch of roses … on a train. 

Of course, the narrative of My Year of Rest and Relaxation is actually what she does between bouts of sleep, she even goes to Riva’s mother’s funeral. A book about sleep would be very thin, this one isn’t.

Moshfegh came to the attention of the literary world with her 2015 novel, Eileen, which won the Hemingway Foundation / PEN Award and was shortlisted for the Man-Booker Prize; however, The Irish Times reviewer hated it. Erin Cressida Wilson, who adapted Paula Hawkins’, Girl on a Train, for the screen will tackle Eileen for film producer, Scot Rubin. 

Here’s a short interview with Moshfegh talking about My Year of Rest and Relaxation.

You can buy the book in various formats, including the kindle version, here