My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a clever and strangely hypnotic novel about a woman who goes into a narcotic-induced sleep-haze for a year. The narrator is privileged and empty; her Upper East Side apartment is paid for and she can use the rent from her parents’ old house to cover her bills. So, aided by a terrible psychiatrist who will prescribe her anything for her supposed insomnia, she goes to sleep. For a year, she endeavours to wake only when necessary, to live by routine, seeing only the guys at the bodega and occasionally the best friend she mostly dislikes.
Moshfegh’s style is fascinating, drawing the reader into the narrator’s strange world and mindset, seeing only what she sees upon waking. As might be expected from a novel mostly about someone trying to sleep away life, there isn’t a huge amount of narrative, but that is the point, and the immediate concerns of the narrator become the drama of the novel. Underneath are flashes of New York in 2000 and 2001: politics, 9/11, a depressing world of diets and art fads. At times it feels like other novels written around that time, using a character’s shocking use of various prescription drugs to enforce sleep to show the extremes of escaping society, but it also feels different, focused very much on the narrator and less on mocking the culture around her. And in this current world in 2018 of unceasing news updates and social media, the idea of sleeping to escape it all makes even more sense.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a darkly comic, downright weird novel that takes the trope of a main character withdrawing from the world and turns it into a purposeful retreat into narcotic oblivion. It mustn’t be written off as yet another New York novel, as it is really about withdrawing from the city, withdrawing from the outside world, and being self-obsessed in a self-destructive seeming way that may just be a rebirth.