My Year of Rest and Relaxation (Jonathan Cape Penguin Random House 2018) is by Ottessa Moshfegh, the author of the dark novel Eileen, which I absolutely loved. My Year of Rest and Relaxation is similarly dark – blackly funny, keenly observed and introspective.
A young woman in her twenties, orphaned by the deaths of both her parents in a short time, and left with a significant inheritance but a spinning sense of dislocation and unease, contemplates the meaning of life – her own life, and life in general – while feeling untethered and discombobulated. She decides to spend an entire year sleeping in order to reset her mind, her body and her emotions. In a literal and metaphorical fog of drugs, she shuts herself off from the world in order to parse its importance. She descends into a narcotic hibernation, assisted by possibly the world’s worst and most incompetent (and most dangerous) psychiatrist, who supplies her with a never-ending cocktail of prescription drugs, which she combines with everything from painkillers to over-the-counter cough syrup.
Although on the surface she seems to have everything – she is rich, thin and beautiful; she lives in an apartment she owns on the Upper East Side of Manhattan – she struggles with her on-again / off-again relationship with her Wall Street boyfriend, who treats her terribly, and she also is frustrated by her friendship with Reva, who witnesses the best and the worst in her, and who is alternately supportive and then incredibly self-absorbed and parasitic. All of this plays out in the year 2000, just before the twin towers tragedy.
This novel is a solipsistic and wistful examination of self; a contemplative discourse on grief; a social comment on the purpose of art; an inward-looking, esoteric, stream-of-consciousness meandering about the meaning of life. I suspect this is a cult-like tome for young people struggling to orientate themselves in the many hypocrisies of the modern world.