Book review: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

I first read My Year of Rest and Relaxation in the fall of 2018 when I spent a couple months home from work waiting to get answers on why I experienced pain when I used my hands. Small tasks like doing up a button, flossing, unscrewing the lid off a bottle of water were beyond me. I switched to clothes I could pull on and wore wrist braces that kept my hands from doing more than they should. Typing was definitely out of the question, and so I spent my days reading library books and going for long walks. 

Sounds idyllic, but it was frustrating to be so limited, and depressing to experience pain and feel that I contributed nothing to the world around me. I had as much utility as my house-cat. I read books to escape. When I noticed My Year of Rest and Relaxation at the library, I felt an ironic kinship with the author. I suspected, with good reason, that some of my coworkers didn’t believe the validity of my medical condition. I suspected they thought I was taking a long, paid vacation. At the time, I chuckled at the thought of writing an Instagram post about this book and imagining my office disbelievers exclaiming, “Aha! I knew it!” 

You might start reading this book if you’ve fantasized about taking a year off of life, but you’ll be drawn into its humour and satire on modern life. The story takes place in the late 90’s/early 00’s. I was the same age as the main character in those years. I found the references to technology and social norms back then fascinating. I’ve forgotten so much.

Satire is delightfully scattered throughout. Besides that, the premise of the book is perversely controversial. I bet if I read it on a subway, I’d get dirty looks. But then why is the idea of taking time to rest or relax considered indulgent? Selfish? Lazy? It used to be prescribed by doctors to cure many a malady. What does our attitude toward rest and relaxation say about us?

In the months I spent reading and walking, barely able to do housework or dress myself, I had a forced experience of rest and relaxation. I felt worthless as a human being because I couldn’t contribute by doing something. I suspected that we humans equate worth with output. After a lot of time thinking about this, I’ve decided that I have worth because I’m alive. That’s all. I don’t need to prove that I deserve to be here, and neither do you.

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