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#BookTok Review: ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ questions material happiness, privilege

“My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Ottessa Moshfegh follows a wealthy Columbia University graduate living on the Upper East Side as she spends a year in a drug-induced coma. During the summer, this novel joined a plethora of trending TikTok beach reads.

Welcome back to a new year of #Booktok Bookshelf, where I, a self-proclaimed Hemingway and Fitzgerald enthusiast, review the novels trending among young people so you do not have to. “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Ottessa Moshfegh made its rounds this summer with over 50 million views under  #MyYearOfRestAndRelaxation on TikTok, despite its original publication in 2018.

The unnamed narrator is tall, pretty and a self-proclaimed person of privilege living in an inherited apartment on the Upper West Side in the year 2000. She recently graduated from Columbia University and works a simple job as an art gallery secretary.

Given her simple lifestyle, it is bafflingly ironic when she decides to spend a year in a chemically induced coma with a prescription from her suspiciously licensed therapist. 

Used with permission from Penguin Press

After only a few chapters, I was seconds away from doing something too rare to be compared to the occurrence of a blue moon: I almost stopped reading entirely. I couldn’t bring myself to empathize with the protagonist, who had every opportunity to be successful and instead chose to spend twelve months in a coma. 

But, there was an idiosyncratic element to Moshfegh’s dark and quirky writing style that convinced me to continue. I realized quickly I had made the right decision; the narrator’s twisted backstory unfolded into a complex chronicle of trauma that swept me into the plot. 

While I initially struggled to empathize with the narrator, I now think Moshfegh crafted the first few chapters to pose a question of material satisfaction. The book takes an intriguing perspective on privilege and challenges how much happiness wealth can truly provide. 

From her depraved and emotionally unavailable Wall Street boyfriend to her jealous and lonely best friend, the narrator also cannot seem to separate herself from the few relationships that she has, even though they make her miserable. The narrator’s company cannot understand why she deserves to suffer, prompting yet another question: Why does she choose to surround herself with them? 

“My Year of Rest and Relaxation” also takes place at a telling moment in New York City’s history, with the narrator’s year of sleep ending right before the tragedy of 9/11. This is yet another layer to Moshefegh’s commentary on outside perceptions of perfection as the narrator looks back on an untainted time in New York City’s past.

The book takes an intriguing perspective on privilege and challenges how much happiness wealth can truly provide.

While TikTok provided ample recommendations for books such as “Beach Read” and “People We Meet on Vacation” by Emily Henry, I urge you to tackle this provocative work of psychological fiction. The endless stream of drugs and subconsciousness is all-consuming as a reader, and thus I cautiously recommend “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” for those willing to empathize with the narrator without feeling the need to try out this social experiment for themselves. 

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About the Contributor
Clara Martinez
Clara Martinez, Editor-in-Chief
Clara Martinez (’24) is the Editor-in-Chief for The Standard. She began journalism as an editor of the Middle School newspaper The Scroll and joined The Standard in Grade 9. Martinez is drawn to investigative news stories and profiles, although she does enjoy producing the occasional broadcast or photo gallery. In or out of the newsroom, she can always be found with a pocket-sized notebook and pen in hand.

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