My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh: A review

What a strange yet captivating novel. The unnamed narrator is a beautiful (as she frequently reminds us), privileged, blonde, skinny (size 2) woman living the life of many people's dreams in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She is a recent graduate of Columbia and has an undemanding job at a hip art gallery, but she doesn't really need the job because all her needs are met by an inheritance from her recently deceased parents.

And about those parents: Our narrator was their only child but she was not close to either of them, and yet their deaths seem to have untethered her mooring to any sort of need to have a productive life or to be a part of a larger society. There has been a rip in the fabric of her soul and her essence seems to be leaking away in the year 2000. Both her parents were narcissists focused on their own needs and comforts and in this their daughter is very much like them. She sees herself as the focus of the world and everything that happens in it is a reaction to her.
"Everyone I knew at school hated me because I was so pretty."
As she faces the general unraveling of her life and an inability (or lack of desire and will) to cope with it, she makes a drastic decision: She will use the wonders of pharmacology and psychotropic drugs to sleep for an entire year, at the end of which she hopes she will be able to shed ennui and rebuild her life.

Her first step in fulfilling her plan is to find a compliant psychiatrist who will prescribe the necessary pills. She goes looking through the yellow pages of the phone book and comes up with Dr. Tuttle, who is possibly my favorite character in the narrative. She is a terrible psychiatrist! She is a bumbler who is all too easily led by her "patient" to provide the cocktail of drugs that she needs to achieve her plan to zonk out for a year.

This may sound like the premise of a grim and claustrophobic tale, but in fact it isn't. It is a bit of a page-turner. It is by turns disgusting and hilarious but never dull.

The writer, Ottessa Moshfegh, is of Croatian and Iranian descent and this is her second novel. She had previously written a novella and a short story collection. Her fiction typically features misfits and loners and, for that description, our narrator is a prime example. Her only sort-of friend is Reva, a young Jewish woman (size 4) who is envious of our narrator's thinness and blonde beauty, or at least that's what we are told. In the midst of the narrator's "year of sleep," Reva receives a promotion in her job and moves to her new office in the Twin Towers and, of course, we can see what is coming.
“On September 11, I went out and bought a new TV/VCR at Best Buy so I could record the news coverage of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. Trevor was on a honeymoon in Barbados, I'd later learn, but Reva was lost. Reva was gone. I watched the videotape over and over to soothe myself that day. And I continue to watch it, usually on a lonely afternoon, or any other time I doubt that life is worth living, or when I need courage, or when I am bored. Each time I see the woman leap off the Seventy-eighth floor of the North Tower—one high-heeled shoe slipping off and hovering up over her, the other stuck on her foot as though it were too small, her blouse untucked, hair flailing, limbs stiff as she plummets down, one arm raised, like a dive into a summer lake—I am overcome by awe, not because she looks like Reva, and I think it's her, almost exactly her, and not because Reva and I had been friends, or because I'll never see her again, but because she is beautiful. There she is, a human being, diving into the unknown, and she is wide awake.”  
Finally, the narcissistic narrator is able to acknowledge that someone else is beautiful, even in dying. Now, perhaps, she, too, is wide awake.  

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


  1. You are the first blogger I follow who has loved this book. I thought for some reason it was a memoir, but you say it's a novel? Just wondering. Anyways, a year under psychotropics is enough to drive anyone crazy, if she wasn't before. BTW, I can empathize somewhat with the image of her watching TV on and on 9/11. I was in shock, numb, in front of the TV for 11 straight hours.

    1. It is quite a strange book and yes, it is definitely a novel, not a memoir. The drugs the narrator describes taking comprise an amazing cocktail and, at a certain point, she has blackouts, going out on the town and not remembering her actions. In the end, when she goes off the drugs, after June 2001, she goes cold turkey. It is a weird and mesmerizing tale.

  2. What a great review, Dorothy! You make the book sound very intriguing, yet I'm not sure I want to read about a narcissist right now. Thanks for stopping by and visiting me; it's hard to get back into blogging after taking a long break, but I do enjoy visiting my blogging friends again.

    1. I can understand your reticence about reading of a narcissist in fiction when we are bombarded by news of our narcissist-in-chief on a daily basis. Narcissists must be difficult to write about in a way that will make us empathize and the writer here doesn't even try. The narrator is an unsympathetic character but fascinating, nevertheless.

  3. I think I will read this someday but not now. I heard her talk on the Otherppl podcast and she came across as astoundingly intelligent and sure of herself which did impress me. So did you like it so much because of the insight into a narcissist? Or because of the writing? Maybe both?

    1. The writing, definitely the writing. The daily news provides more than enough insight into narcissism.


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