My Year of Rest and Relaxation has been everywhere and is on the Wellcome Prize list for this year. I have heard mix reviews about it, predominately good but with a questionable response of why did I like this book. To be honest, once I started to read this book, I simply found it addictive and I could not and did not want to put it down.
We follow the story of a young woman’s journey to do exactly what it says on the cover her year of rest of relaxation. But this is just the title there is a lot more to the story and it explores some complex topics. Ottessa covers topics that are often shy away from such as mental illness, grief and loneliness. Initially, when I first started reading this book, I just thought like most that this is just a privileged woman having a moment, she is lucky she has her own apartment, plenty of money which means she does not need to work and she is just acting spoilt. However, when you read further it runs a lot deeper then that. You realise that money cannot buy you everything and she is coming to terms with the fact that people may deem she is lucky to have pretty much everything, but it is all material things.
I felt her loneliness, and during the book I just felt her sadness wash over me. She did not have any coping strategies, she has never really needed them when everyone else has done it for her. She didn’t have any strong role models to turn to or guide her, apart from a questionable psychiatrist who simply felt the problem could be resolved by over medicating her and ignoring what she was saying during their meetings.
‘I can’t blame Dr Tuttle for her terrible advice. I elected to be her patient, after all. She gave me everything I asked for, and I appreciated her for that. I’m sure there were others like her out there, but the ease with which I’d found her, and the immediate relief that her prescriptions provided, made me feel that I’d discovered a pharmaceutical shaman, a magnus, a sorcerer a sage.’
What I kept thinking was that she really needed a stable, supportive person who could normalize some of her uncertain and questionable behavior, but there was no one. Or no one she would accept in her life all she wanted to have is destructive “friends” or “professionals” in her life, it seemed that she was not quite ready to move on. All of her relationships were destructive and reflected her behavior and her mind-set.
We are taken on the drug fueled pathway of destruction and watch “friendships” come and go. I think this is where people do get frustrated because I found myself saying “what more do you want” but then thinking twice and realizing that she had something missing, a big gaping hole in her life that she was unable to fulfil.
Towards the end of her Rest and Relaxation year, I felt the change in mood and period of reflection setting in and a new appreciation of the outside world.
‘I focused on the sound and then the universe narrowed into a fine line, and that felt better there was a clearer trajectory, so I travelled more peacefully through outer space, listening to the rhythm of my respiration, each breath an echo of the breath before, softer and softer, until I was far enough away that there was no sound, there was no movement. There was no need for reassurance or directionality because I was nowhere, doing nothing. I was nothing. I was gone.’
It is a book that I found highly addictive and I could not put it down. I am not sure if it is in a likeable way, I am still processing the book. However, it is a book that I wanted to find out more and more. At the end of the book, it does end in sadness (I am not going to say what) and you can almost see her mind starting to clear from the haze and her starting to move on with her life.
This is a book I would recommend to read, for the first time, I am not sure why I am recommending this book, but I feel everyone should read it and experience the turmoil and perhaps understand that mental health, loneliness and the importance of having positive, strong relationships in your life.
About the Book
A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature. Our narrator has many of the advantages of life, on the surface. Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like everything else, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents in college, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?
This story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs, designed to heal us from our alienation from this world, shows us how reasonable, even necessary, that alienation sometimes is. Blackly funny, both merciless and compassionate – dangling its legs over the ledge of 9/11.