Rest and Relaxation provides meaning in these times

Aine O'Boyle

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh has firmly established itself as one of the top reads this quarantine.

For many of us, the idea of sleeping through this period of social isolation sounds rather appealing, but for this novel’s unnamed protagonist it is a reality.

Set in pre 9/11 era New York, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” documents the life of a beautiful, skinny, blonde young woman who is hoping to achieve a renaissance of sorts through a period of heavy, medicated sleep.

There is a certain shock factor to this novel as we get to know the protagonist and become acquainted with the cocktail of medication she takes every day in the hope that she will fall into a state of deep unconsciousness.

From the offset, the author creates a highly unlikeable character, as despite looking like a supermodel off-duty and being rich and intelligent, the protagonist is completely overcome with an addiction to sleep, napping whenever she gets the opportunity, sleeping for hours on end at home and even taking a daily break in the broom closet of the job she eventually gets fired from.

There is something about this incessant need to sleep that makes the protagonist unlikeable as we watch her give up contact with the outside world, bar the Egyptian workers at her local Bodega and her annoying, but well-intentioned, friend Reva.

Slowly as the plot develops we begin to understand the various factors that led the protagonist to shut off from life and succumb to her desire to regenerate through sleep.

Our Upper East Side, model-off-duty character has been orphaned for some years, with her father passing away from cancer and her mother dying not too shortly afterwards from taking a concoction of pills and alcohol. The protagonist expresses no love towards her parents, who lacked any sort of warmth or empathy for her, yet she grieves their loss and doesn’t understand why.

She is also drawn towards a dysfunctional relationship with an older man named Trevor, of whom uses her at his disposal and shows her no real love or affection.

Such factors led her towards the phonebook, where she found the number for Dr Tuttle, a trusting psychiatrist who hands out medication without any real forensic investigation into the wellbeing of her clients, so long as the insurance companies stay off her back….

With the help of Dr Tuttle, our protagonist’s cupboards soon fill up with prescription medication and she concocts a plan to sleep for six months, taking a strong mix of medication that means she will only be awake for approximately 40 hours of this period.

After this, she hopes to emerge as a new person, and start living life on her terms.

Aine O’Boyle

Image Credit: NPR