• Madeleine Feeny

Hibernation Edition: My Year of Rest and Relaxation, A Virtual Immersive Literary Supperclub

Updated: May 5, 2020

'Sleep was coming for me. I knew the sound of it by now, the foghorn of dead space that put me on autopilot while my conscious self roamed like a goldfish'

On Friday 1st May we hosted our first virtual literary supperclub, on My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. Set in pre-9/11 New York , the novel follows a nameless narrator’s chemical hibernation project, undertaken in the hope of obliterating a painful past.

'I would be a whole new person, every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant, foggy memories.'

Orphaned by unloving parents, discarded by her banker boyfriend and forcibly released from the vacuous drudgery of her art gallery job, this twenty-five-year-old beauty has become increasingly desensitised and detached from society. Seeking refuge in narcotic oblivion, she severs contact with almost everyone in her life and can barely endure the few who remain – including her neurotic, appearance-obsessed friend Reva and the cartoonishly eccentric quack Dr Tuttle, who gleefully prescribes an eye-popping cocktail of meds. Yet beneath the merciless, laugh-out-loud satire and nihilism lies a powerful portrait of unprocessed grief and abandonment.

'I was starving my mind into obliqueness. I felt less and less.'

What could be more fitting for our first lockdown event than a story of self-isolation? Serendipitously, the day before, the Guardian published an article by Moshfegh on the unexpected challenges of mandatory self-isolation, by comparison with the voluntary kind she often practices (and fictionalised in My Year of Rest and Relaxation).

Beforehand, we circulated a document outlining the format of the event, with a prop list and menu including recipes. Our tablescapes featured: colourful pills; red roses (which the artist Ping Xi delivers to the narrator); white roses (which she takes to a funeral); pizza boxes (she survives on pizza during the latter stage of hibernation); VCRs (she watches multiple old movies, many starring her hero Whoopi Goldberg); cigarettes (she puffs away throughout); and lacy lingerie draped over chairs ( she orders Victoria's Secret deliveries in her sleep).

At 8pm we convened for dinner with the five other guests – based in London, Totnes, Madrid and Seville respectively – via video call. A special mention goes to Maria Castellanos’s set at home outside Seville (top image): she created a bed within a bodega, referencing the narrator’s regular forays for 'consistently bad' coffee. We wore pyjamas and eye masks, drank rosé and cooked Pad See Ew, a Thai street food dish that the narrator orders in. We followed this with Häagen-Dazs ice cream, and snacked on peanut M&Ms, barbecue crisps and clementines – all of which the narrator unwittingly buys and consumes in a narcotic stupor.

'I ordered Pad See Ew from the Thai place, ate half of it, watched the 1995 remake of Sabrina starring Harrison Ford, took another shower, downed the last of Ambien, and found the porn channel again'

With its distinctively deadpan, misanthropic voice, the novel features many killer lines and observations so we decided to open with a quiz, which included ‘who is being described?' and ‘who is speaking?’ rounds. A lively discussion followed, exploring questions such as: How do current events affect our interpretation of the novel? How have beauty and privilege affected the narrator's life? What do we think of the novel's representation of the art world?

It certainly made a change from the quizzes that have become a staple of remote socialising. As it’s impossible to be sure of when, if ever, we’ll be able to meet IRL as before, we're planning another virtual literary supperclub – details coming soon.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh is published by Vintage.

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