My Year of Rest and Relaxation perfectly encapsulates an overwhelming feeling of melancholia

Ottessa Moshfegh photographed by Jessica Lehrman for The New York Times

“I thought life would be more tolerable if my brain were slower to condemn the world around me”. 

Through her skill of brutally honest story-telling, Ottessa Moshfegh perfectly encapsulates an overwhelming feeling of melancholia throughout her novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation. 

The novel follows the experiences of an unnamed protagonist in her twenties whose ultimate goal is to sleep for as long as possible. Utilizing a narration style reminiscent of The Bell Jar, the protagonist guides readers through her seemingly mundane daily activities, mostly consisting of pill-popping, black-outs and listening to the rambling of self-obsessed best friend Reva. 

Throughout this mundanity though, the narrator tells a story of loss. Born into wealth and beauty, the protagonist seemingly should have nothing but happiness, but as readers are guided through the story of her parents passing, a toxic relationship, all leading up to a rather hollow life, it can be understood why she wishes to use hibernation as “self-preservation”. 

Throughout the narrative, Moshfegh creates a unique and complex character with whom readers are left wondering whether to empathize or despise. A traumatizing past and outwardly meaningless life evoke sympathy but an unusually cold and cynical outlook on the world allows for a questioning of the character’s nature. 

Before the turn of the novel, when the protagonist is beginning her descent into slumber, she is often overcome by cloudy disorientation due to her copious amount of medication. In this half-alive state, Moshfegh uses the character’s ambiguity to portray real feelings and emotions, often vulgar and cold. In one case, she expresses the way in which she can “think of feelings, but (…) couldn’t bring them up”. This emptiness and paralyzation of emotions captures the overall mood of the novel, as well as the void the protagonist wishes to replace living with. 

The linear and sometimes repetitive storyline creates a novel that allows readers to feel the emotions of the narrator. As each detail is slowly revealed in a daze, Moshfegh creates a slow but entrancing story. A combination of unique characterization, blatant vulgarity, and an honest stream of consciousness narration makes this novel unlike any other. The relatability of want for an escape coupled with that bizarre way in which the main character interacts with the world gives readers a book that they can both resonate with, as well as ponder.