In life as in fiction, women are often forced into unnaturally sanitised and sexualised roles in society. The burgeoning acknowledgement of this long term reality has given birth to the #MeToo movement online, as well as an increasing sense that women are rightly seizing the chance to present their lives and views as they really are, without the modifications that patriarchal societies demand.
Enter Ottessa Moshfegh with her second novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which is also Golden Hare’s pick for our free Book Club on Tuesday 25th September at 6:30pm (which you can can find out about by clicking here!)
Daring to say things that have previously been taboo is Moshfegh’s speciality, something that she seizes with an enthusiasm simultaneously gleeful and thoughtful. Often criticised for writing about some of the grotesque realities of women’s lives, Moshfegh deliberately places nasty, shocking female characters front and centre in her narratives. Her characters seem to pop off the page, thanks to the dark reality of their lives, as seen previously in her debut novel, Eileen.
Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation does touch on the gross things that people do, zooming in on the nasty, secret portions of life that many would rather politely ignore. If you’re eager to read something that undercuts expectations with each perfectly constructed sentence (while revelling in the whipcrack of Moshfegh’s fierce humour), then this book is for you!
Moshfegh’s protagonist, an unnamed narrator, is in complete contrast to the 18th century archetype of graceful female relaxation that adorns the book’s cover. Set in the years 2000 and 2001, the narrator decides to slumber for an entire year in an attempt to restore her wellbeing, itself a remedy straight out of the 18th century (although with a 21st century twist of mind-bending doses of prescription medication and indecently huge quantities of Whoopi Goldberg movies on VHS):
“Soon I was hitting the pills hard and sleeping all day and all night with two- and three-hour breaks in between. This was good, I thought. I was finally doing something that really mattered. Sleep felt productive. Something was getting sorted out. I knew in my heart – this was, perhaps, the only thing my heart knew back then – that when I’d slept enough, I’d be okay. I’d be renewed, reborn. I would be a whole new person, every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant, foggy memories. My past life would be but a dream, and I could start over without regrets, bolstered by the bliss and serenity that I would have accumulated in my year of rest and relaxation.”
Daring to allow female characters to have negative traits while still retaining nuanced characterisation is hard but Moshfegh delivers. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t occasional Eileen-esque stand out moments that will stun you with their audacity (one particular moment involving the floor of a gallery, tissues and a stuffed dog will linger long in the memory…) but more that Moshfegh is interested in composing a subtler story this time around.
Golden Hare can heartily recommend My Year of Rest and Relaxation. It’s a confrontational second novel with a powerful and insightful core, one that will inspire discussion for a long time to come.
And speaking of discussion, please feel free to come along to Golden Hare’s free Book Group on Tuesday 25th September at 6:30pm, where we’ll be discussing My Year of Rest and Relaxation. We’re very excited to see what everyone thinks of this stunning novel.
Enjoy the book and see you on the 25th!