October 07, 2019

Ottessa Moshfegh

The impossibility of capturing the writing process
Ottessa Moshfegh is the kind of writer who seems to know a secret about the world around us—and fans at her book events are hoping she’ll share it. We spoke with the author about book touring and more.
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When it comes to Ottessa Moshfegh’s novels, sometimes it feels like the darker the humor, the better. In her 2018 novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a young woman in the year 2000 self-medicates to check out of life. After all, who doesn’t want to sleep through hard moments, malaise or the misery that seems to come from nowhere and everywhere?

Moshfegh is the kind of writer who seems to know a secret about the world around us—and fans at her book events are hoping she’ll share it. We spoke with the author about touring and more.


What is the mark of a really great book event?
Laughter from the audience might be an indication that everybody’s paying attention. But I think there’s also something intangible about a good book event—the room feels united, focused and inspired. I think a really great book event is one that feels unrehearsed and honest.

What have you most enjoyed about interacting with your readership of My Year of Rest and Relaxation?
I have most enjoyed seeing the variety of people who take an interest in the book. From millennials to octogenarians. A few ghosts and monsters have shown up at signings, too. That means a lot to me. I like that some people respond to the novel as though it’s pure satire, and others see it as a portrait of grief.

“What looks like clear and directed writing took much chaos and anxiety. I felt like I was losing my mind toward the end.”

What is most challenging to discuss with readers about your book or the writing process?
One challenge for me is in remembering what the process of writing the novel was like. For me, it’s a bit like childbirth (or so I hear) in that one forgets the pain as soon as it’s over. The book took such a roundabout way for me to get to the core of the story, and it took a lot of life experience to understand the simple thing I wanted to portray. What in effect looks like clear and directed writing took much chaos and anxiety. I felt like I was losing my mind toward the end.

When visiting a city for a book event, do you have any rituals, either for yourself or to get to know the city?
This may be totally disappointing, but when I’m on a book tour or doing an event, I tend to hide a lot in my hotel room. I do have a ritual of visiting the nearest Whole Foods salad bar and eating it in bed watching “Forensic Files” on the TV. If I’m in a city where I have friends, it’s a different story.

If you could sit in the audience for an event with any author, living or dead, who would you like to see read from and discuss their book?
I’d like to see Nabokov read from Lolita

The narrator of My Year of Rest and Relaxation refuses to be part of the larger world and cocoons herself against it. A book event is, for an author, the opposite of that. How do you prepare yourself to perform?
Before a big event, I try not to think about what I’m going to say. There are a few songs I like to listen to: “Flex” by Rich Homie Quan and “Video Phone” by Beyoncé with Lady Gaga.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of My Year of Rest and Relaxation.

Author photo by Krystal Griffiths 

Get the Book

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

By Ottessa Moshfegh
Penguin Press
ISBN 9780525522119

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