Salutations: I welcome you back to the next installment of which novels have inspired my writing; today I will be discussing the 2018 novel "My Year of Rest and Relaxation" by Ottessa Moshfegh. This novel delves into a multitude of themes, including alienation, discontent, identity, self-discovery, isolation, loneliness, society and cultural critique, satire, escapism, self-destruction, mental health, and trauma. These themes interweave throughout the narrative, offering a contemplative exploration of the human condition, societal expectations, and the search for meaning and connection in a world that often feels overwhelming, unsatisfying, and ultimately exhausting.

Moshfegh's exploration of various themes in "My Year of Rest and Relaxation" captivates readers and invites critical analysis. This essay delves into the book's portrayal of the "poor little rich girl" trope, the glamorization of self-medication, and the intricate dynamics of grief and toxic relationships within the main character's life. Furthermore, it sheds light on the complex give-and-take relationship she shares with her best friend. Through an exploration of these themes, the novel invites readers to reflect on the interplay of privilege, mental health, and personal growth.

For this article, I will be discussing the complexities of rediscovering yourself as an adult, the severity of untreated grief, the ease of self-medicating, and how the satirization of the “poor little unhinged rich girl” highlights the correlation between loss and addiction.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation was one of my favorite reads of 2018, as I mentioned in previous articles. I have a rather unhealthy proclivity for deeply unlikeable characters, and in this case, the protagonist has the ability to float through the novel's narrative, causing a wave of chaos and walking out of the damage they have caused unscathed.

One of my favorite quotes from My Year of Rest and Relaxation:

People would be so much more at ease if they acted on impulse rather than reason. That’s why drugs are so effective in curing mental illness—because they impair our judgment. Don’t try to think too much. While the quote can be seen as somewhat dismissive, it effectively captures the essence of the novel. Throughout the story, the unnamed protagonist and her psychiatrist, Dr. Tuttle, never truly delve into the root causes of her issues. Instead, they opt for an unconventional approach, encouraging her to float through life under the influence of medication as a means of self-healing.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, I will attempt to summarize it as accurately as possible. The story is set in New York City during the early 2000s and revolves around an unnamed protagonist, a young woman in her twenties. She embarks on a year-long experiment of self-imposed drug-induced hibernation, seeking to escape the difficulties and dissatisfaction of her life. Despite being intelligent and attractive and having graduated from Columbia University, she finds herself disillusioned with the world around her.

The protagonist's relationship with her parents is strained, and she has recently lost her job at an art gallery. Adding to her burden is the heavy grief she experiences from the loss of her best friend, Reva. In an attempt to find solace and escape her emotional and existential torment, she decides that the best path to healing is to sleep as much as possible, aided by a variety of prescription drugs acquired from an unethical and unconventional psychiatrist.

Throughout her year of hibernation, the protagonist establishes a routine of prolonged sleep, only awakening to further medicate herself, eat, and occasionally interact with her unorthodox psychiatrist. Her isolation is occasionally interrupted by brief encounters with a few individuals, including her ex-boyfriend Trevor, an artist named Ping Xi, and her obnoxious neighbor, Mr. Wang. These interactions serve to emphasize her growing detachment and alienation from the world, as well as her tenuous grasp on reality and cognitive functioning.

As the year progresses, the protagonist's dreams and reality begin to merge, blurring the line between her inner and outer experiences. She encounters surreal and vivid dreams that reflect her subconscious desires and fears. The narrative explores themes of alienation, depression, grief, and her quest for meaning in a world that feels shallow, hollow, and lacking in depth.

The way "My Year of Rest and Relaxation" influenced my writing and my short film was unexpected. While the novel employs an unreliable narrator, which can be disorienting for readers, my film maintains a clear narrative despite leaving room for viewers to interpret the weight and impact of off-screen characters on those who are on-screen. Moshfegh's prose helped me shape the friendship between Gale and Edith in my work, although their dynamic is less cruel. It captures Edith's power over Gale and the platonic love they share.

The novel provided me with a foundation to explore the fundamental flaws of my female characters. While they may not be likable in the traditional sense, their personalities carry weight. Moshfegh's portrayal of Reeva, for example, depicts her as weak and submissive, but I argue that despite her flaws and occasional annoyance, she has strong opinions and genuinely loves the protagonist, showcasing a complex dynamic similar to that of Archibald and Gale.

One of the central themes in the novel is the "poor little rich girl" trope, where the protagonist is financially secure but battles with a deep sense of dissatisfaction, emotional emptiness, and difficulty forming meaningful connections. This portrayal highlights the emptiness that can exist in even the most privileged lives. In my film, my female characters also experience a sense of distance and detachment, even among the floating characters. They never truly have to face any significant challenges, which allows them the luxury of being blasé without facing any consequences.

Another aspect of the novel that resonates deeply with me is its depiction of self-contempt and self-loathing. I explained this with a quote below:

But coming out of that sleep was excruciating. My entire life flashed before my eyes in the worst way possible, my mind refilling itself with all my lame memories, every little thing that had brought me to where I was. I'd try to remember something else—a better version, a happy story, maybe, or just an equally lame but different life that would at least be refreshing in its digressions—but it never worked. I was always still me. Sometimes I woke up with my face wet with tears. The only times I cried, in fact, were when I was pulled out of that nothingness, when the alarm on my cell phone went off.

This quote may sound rather obnoxious, but there's something about how human it reads at this point in the novel. I felt a connection with the protagonist, and I can't quite describe why it felt so familiar to me. While not as extreme as the quoted passage, I'm sure we've all experienced this type of emotion at some point. The final piece of information I will share regarding how "My Year of Rest and Relaxation" inspired my graduate film is the way it reminded me of different friend groups I am a part of. We have our own versions of Reeva, numerous Trevors, and artists who believe they have divine talents with a canvas and paintbrush. We are all unlikeable in our own ways, but we don't cause much harm—well, most of us girls never did. As for the boys, I'll leave that to your imagination.

Although I read the novel well before I began working on my graduate film, I knew I wanted to incorporate an element of satire and a blasé attitude into my piece. Lines such as "we'll never have to work a day in our lives" were quoted from a friend during a brunch in a pre-pandemic summer. It captured the essence of our lives, where we have the luxury of relying on our parents and choosing whether or not to work, rather than out of necessity for a paycheck. I remember laughing and teasing her playfully as we received disapproving looks from nearby tables. Most of my film is characterized by quotes from past conversations.

To conclude, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for taking the time to read this article. Your support means more to me than words can convey, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to share my work. I hope you will continue to follow my upcoming articles, which will explore different topics and delve into my other passions. While I have thoroughly enjoyed discussing the inspiration behind my graduate film, I also look forward to sharing more personal essays and thought-provoking pieces that I hope will resonate with you. Once again, thank you for your support, and it is now time for me to bid farewell.