FIVE SARDONIC STARS
- Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
- Julia Whelan
- Publication date: July 10, 2018
Contrary to the lovely 18th century painting of a leisurely young woman gracing the cover, this novel is set in 2000 and 2001. Women have had “fainting spells” for centuries now and the remedy is usually a good lie-in. Sleep is restorative. Beautiful and necessary for good health. This is all our never-named protagonist wants in life. Sleep. Our Sleeping Beauty makes a conscious decision to slumber for one year.
“I can’t point to any one event that resulted in my decision to go into hibernation,” the narrator tells us. “I thought life would be more tolerable if my brain were slower to condemn the world around me.”
The combination of apathetic, glitzy beauty and horror is a prevalent theme in My Year. The best comparative books I’ve come up with are: Brett Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and a little bit of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. What a combo, huh?
The obvious timeline will lead you to the impending ending, you know we are headed for 9/11 territory. In a lesser writer’s hands, this would be off-putting and cliched. Moshfegh uses it to dazzling irony and, you better believe, I was stunned into a silent reflection that so few contemporary novels are able to achieve.
Just reading about our never-named character craving sleep all the time, seduced my own mind and I could often hear my pillow calling my name while listening to this perfectly narrated audiobook (Julia Whelan-is the goddess of audio acting!). That’s not to imply the book is in any way boring, many parts are unquestionably disturbing. Our girl secures the worst shrink in history and is given pharmaceuticals by the handfuls. She has some of the most sickening, vulgar nightmares which are described in horrifying detail.
She endures the nightmares and blackouts as the preferred alternative to her awakened existence. What is she hiding from? Why why why? You will get the answers in this dreamily paced, viciously witty story. You may not like the answers, but author Moshfegh doesn’t care. She is the one simply holding the mirror.
Like the main character, the novel is vacuous, yet complicated. Blank, yet layered. A spectacularly detached anti-drama. I really love it, but it definitely may not be your cup of tea.
Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a powerful answer to that question. Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be. Both tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers.
About the Author:
Ottessa Moshfegh is a fiction writer from New England. Her first book, McGlue, a novella, won the Fence Modern Prize in Prose and the Believer Book Award. She is also the author of the short story collection Homesick for Another World. Her stories have been published in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and Granta, and have earned her a Pushcart Prize, an O. Henry Award, the Plimpton Discovery Prize, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Eileen, her first novel, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction; My Year of Rest and Relaxation, her second novel, was a New York Times bestseller.