Ottessa Moshfegh – My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Ottessa Moshfegh – My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Looking at her from the outside, she has everything one could wish for: she is blond, pretty, thin, a Columbia graduate, stylish without effort and she has a job at a gallery. Due to her inheritance, she can afford an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But that’s just one side of the medal, her relationship with Trevor has been all but healthy, her parents never showed any affection and thus losing them both when she was in college was a minor affair. What she is lacking is an aim in life, something that gives her a reason for being alive. She feels exhausted and just wants to sleep until everything is over. She slowly extends her time in bed, she even falls asleep at work and then, finally, she decides to hibernate. A crazy therapist provides her with medication that allows more and more hours of sleep at a time. She hopes that after a year of rest, she will awake as somebody new.

Ottessa Moshfegh is a US-American writer who earned a degree in Creative Writing from Brown University and whose short stories were received with positive reviews. After her novella “McGLue”, her first novel “Eileen” was published in 2015 and made it on the shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. Having chosen a mostly unsympathetic protagonist for her former novel, I found it much easier so sympathise with her narrator in “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”.

The young woman who is portrayed is quite typical in a certain way. She is the modern New Yorker who takes part in the glittery art circus, is a part of a subculture of believes itself to be highly reflective and innovative. At a certain point, the superficiality becomes exhausting and the aimless tittle-tattle and prattle don’t provide any deeper insight.

“The art at Ducat was supposed to be subversive irreverent, shocking, but was all just canned counterculture crap, “punk, but with money”.

Also her relationship does not go beyond superficial sex and one-night-stands that lead to nothing. Added to this is the easy availability of all kinds of drugs, of therapists who themselves are too crazy to detect any serious illness in their clients and therefore just fill in any prescription they are asked for. Even though the plot starts in 2000, the characters are quite typical for the 1990s and they need a major event to wake them up and bring them back to real life.

The narrator tries to flee the world and takes more and more pills mixed with each other, as a result she is sleepwalking, even gets a new haircuts and orders masses of lingerie without knowing. Her radius is limited to her blog, her only human contacts are the Egyptians at the bodega at the corner where she buys coffee, the doorman of her apartment house and Reva, her best friend who still cares about her. Even though she is bothered by the things she does when she is not awake, she has become that addicted that she cannot let go anymore.

Even though the protagonist is highly depressive and seeing how badly she copes with her life is hard to endure in a way, the novel is also hilarious. I especially liked her meetings with her therapist since Dr. Tuttle is riotous in her eccentric ways and their dialogues are highly comical – despite the earnestness of their actual topics. Ottessa Moshfegh most certainly earns a place among to most relevant authors of today.

Ottessa Moshfegh – Eileen

Ottessa Moshfegh – Eileen

Eileen looks back at the life she once had, the life in X-Ville, where she grew up with her father, a former policeman and alcohol addict, her older sister who was everything she was not and her mother who died much too early. Due to the mother’s illness, Eileen had to give up college and return home to care for her, she found a job in a juvenile detention centre which she hated. There is no such thing as a private life for Eileen, stalking one of the prison guards, some shoplifting from time to time, drinking a bit too much with her father. This is definitely not the life Eileen had imagined, but how can she flee from it? She spends her days daydreaming of different possibilities of escape. When Rebecca Saint John arrives at the prison, Eileen is intrigued by the women’s demeanour. She immediately admires her and even kind of falls in love with her – not foreboding what is behind the nice looks and outer appearance of this woman.

Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel combines psychological aspects with a crime story in a very unexpected way. For the largest part, we follow Eileen and her rather pitiful life. How the parents treat her, especially her father who seems to take her rather as a servant and not as his daughter, her sister with whom she does not relate at all. And her concept of herself: she perceives herself as invisible, ugly even, nobody could ever be interested in her, nobody seems to take notice of her presence. Her thoughts about escape, escape from the village, escape from life, her fantasies about killing her father who is responsible for her deplorable situation arise from her borderline state of mind. Thus, it is not surprising how she reacts when she finds herself suddenly in a critical and threatening situation with a gun in her hand.

From a psychological point of view, the nomination for the 2016 Man Booker Prize shortlist can easily be understood. The novel offers deep insight in the character’s mind and opens a completely new world to the reader. The atmosphere created, the lonely far away village, deep in snow, also wonderfully blends with the inner state of the protagonist. Nevertheless, I would have preferred some more action a bit earlier. The sudden crime situation came a bit too late to my taste.