Months ago I read Otessa Mosefgh’s acclaimed novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation at the persistent request of my friend. Later, I drafted an email about my thoughts on the book. I never sent the email, and I never shared the thoughts I wrote. Here’s the (slightly) edited version.
I was fully prepared to dislike My Year of Rest and Relaxation. When I was encouraged to read the book by my friend, I had known about the book for awhile. It had dotted my Instagram feed for weeks at some point last year and even though it was lauded by people whose opinion on literature I quite respect, I also recalled books like Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion that are the talk of the town and then I find a tremendous bore. And I really want to start forming my own opinion on things.
When I started reading the book, I thought wow I do not like this girl, I do not like this book. But I kept going because my friend wanted me to read it and I wanted to read more of almost anything. My first thoughts about the novel’s unnamed narrator and protagonist is that she was conceited, privileged and a little whiny. I felt disgusted with her and I was unsure if I could make it through a entire novel full of her. But of course, over time I came to understand her. I came to appreciate her, to care for her. She could be a little despicable and gross but she also felt relatable. The overwhelming, and sometimes debilitating feeling of caring so much it feels impossible to live when life feels like a grey, purposeless mess. When it felt full of people who thought they had it all figured out, desperate characters that were grasping at every possible thing to make themselves feel good about who they were and who they had chosen to be. Characters like Reva and Ping Xi and Natasha, who weren’t bad people, but who are the kind of people we should resist becoming if only because there is no satisfaction in a performative life.
Yet, her project of a year of rest and relaxation feels like a performance art piece, even without Ping Xi’s strange appropriation of her experience. I still haven’t decided what I think. I think it was Mosefgh’s intention for it to feel a bit performative. Despite this, and despite the protagonists lies and delusions the whole thing feels honest and open. Maybe the joke’s on me.