Pandemic Picks – My Year of Rest and Relaxation
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh,
Penguin Books, 2019
Review by Sally Bothroyd, NT Writers’ Centre Director
Many people – currently housebound by the pandemic – may relate to the protagonist of this satirical second novel of US author Ottessa Moshfegh. (Her first novel Eileen was shortlisted for the Man Booker, but try not to hate her).
The story centers on a privileged young woman who is living in New York in the year 2000. In a bid to cure her lack of interest in life, she decides she’d like to sleep for a year. She finds a medical professional who’s willing to prescribe all manner of pharmaceuticals, and she beds down in her New York apartment, emerging only to buy coffee from the local bodega.
In between napping she orders takeaway, avoids the news, and watches movies from the 1980s on her trusty VHS player. She particularly likes the films of Harrison Ford and Whoopi Goldberg. It’s the days before Facebook, so her only other social interaction is with her college friend Reva – who she can’t seem to shake off, no matter how hard she tries.
The set up doesn’t sound like it could sustain more than a short story, but in the hands of Moshfegh – a master of deft description – it’s a funny, sad and disturbing tale of alienation amid one of the world’s busiest cities. As the novel progresses, time is ticking down to September 11, 2001 – when the reader knows that our unnamed heroine will no longer be able to ignore reality.
Will a year of rest and relaxation prepare her for what is to come? Or will she spend the rest of her life in a state of lockdown?