In her debut novel Eileen as well as in last years sensation My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh shows her readers untraditional and unnerving female perspectives and worldviews in regards to sense of self and sense of surroundings.
I’ve already raved about Eileen in this blog, so it is about time I dive into My Year of Rest and Relaxation.
A nameless twentysomething blasé newyorker decides to take a break from her life, calling it her year of rest and relaxation. She stops complying with her wealthy worlds usual standards, cuts ties with her social circle and retires to her apartment. After starting to experiment with the fictional drug Infermitol and spending more and more time asleep, she ironically becomes an art project and an object of observation herself: While for her the outside world doesn’t exist, an artist uses her lucid state for his video projects.
There are so many wonderful paradoxes in this book that the unusual scenario doesn’t even take me aback as much as I thought it would. In our world, the current generation dependant on social media is often referred to as the empty generation, constantly looking for distractions and getting sidetracked while ignoring anything and everything that is real, happening in real life.
Moshfeghs protagonist actively decides to elude that meaninglessness by, for one, doing nothing, but on the other hand, letting others use her, disguising her egoism and self-destruction as meaningful altruism. There is so much existential poetry in this narrative.
On the other hand, she also admits weakness and the need for another to help her, as her psychiatrist prescribes her the drugs that permit her to reach the aforementioned lucid state. So, by destroying her body – don’t do drugs, kids! – she attempts to heal her mind from the grief of her parents‘ death.
There are so many serious issues in this novel: mental health, 9/11, losing family, finding oneself in the vast overstimulated urban jungle of 21st century western civilization…
…but somehow all of them seem put into this parody-like frame, where one is absolutely allowed to completely disregard her own physical well-being and shut down outwardly to focus on the nothingness of the meaning of life – since someone who is at the same time trying to get her act together, is worthless and therefore randomly eliminated through a terrible act of terror.
Which kind of person is more valuable in a philosophical sense? In an evolutionary sense? In a sociological sense? In an existential sense?
Who even wants to ask that question?
In a way, the cycle of grief begins again after the protagonists year of sleep, signalling that there really is no option to opt out, since life is an endless series of horrible events. However, a long night’s sleep does help to process that knowledge and those experiences.
Looking past all of these rather universal questions and problems, put in a highly unique form, one is left to admire Moshfeghs ability to construct someone so utterly absurd, and make the reader feel her grief and celebrate her resurrection. At the same time, the metalevels of this becoming art and the ridiculousness of the situation are something else.
Moreover, she is highly unlikeable and still even more so, extremely interesting – something female protagonists rarely achieve.
I wonder if this is a deformed way of magical realism? Moshfeghs novels are in my opinion unpinpointable, which also makes them absolutely fascinating.
The hilarious nihilism, the cynical detachment and the deep pain of being completely lost make for a very paradoxical protagonist. Which, again, is Moshfeghs most masterful skill. Her main characters are unequaled.
In conclusion, I believe Ottessa Moshfegh to be one of the – if not the – most interesting female writers of our time. Eileen made a strong impression on me and My Year of Rest and Relaxation only confirms her brilliance. I’m excited for more.