Art + Culture Featured

My Year of Rest and Relaxation: Book Review

‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ by Ottessa Moshfegh is a ‘sad girl’ book through and through   

In 2022, the curious ‘sad girl’ trend appeared on our Instagram and TikTok feeds: its hashtag collects videos and photos of young women indulging in grungy and gloomy aesthetics and in the enveloping decadence of Lana Del Rey’s, Phoebe Bridgers’ and Fiona Apple’s music. As with any trend, it doesn’t only involve the spheres of fashion and music, but also of literature: many writers were warmly recommended by numerous websites and online reading communities, from the classics of Sylvia Plath and Emily Bronte to the contemporary voices of Eliza Clark and Raven Leilani (acclaimed authors of Boy Parts and Luster respectively). But there’s one book in particular that enjoyed a renovated success: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. 

‘Sad girl’ books often focus on the character of a stone-cold, angsty woman. And Moshfegh’s work – first published in 2018 – is no exception: the protagonist is an unnamed girl living alone in New York City at the beginning of the 21st century who, in an attempt to fix her extreme distress and dissatisfaction with life, decides to self-isolate and sleep for a whole year. Her physical attributes label her as the ideal woman of the early 2000s – young, thin, blonde and rich -, but these privileges hardly corresponded on a personality level. Since the first pages of the book (which develops as a first-person narration), we’re faced very clearly with the protagonist’s mind: she’s cynical, pessimist, spoiled and lazy; her behaviour towards people – especially her only friend Reva – is rude and careless. This extreme anger and negativity can be hard to digest for some readers, but this is also what makes the story interesting. 

The turning point of the book is the encounter with Dr Tuttle, an incompetent therapist who becomes an involuntary accomplice in the protagonist’s plan: while the latter falsely claims growing insomnia episodes, the psychologist prescribes her (always stronger) sleeping pills. The protagonist’s apartment becomes a laboratory where she experiments with any meds available to her, mixing them and taking notes of their bizarre side effects. Once ready to embark on this weird healing journey, she resigns from her job and goes on a year-long hibernation, from whom she only wakes up for a few minutes to eat and take more pills. 

my year of rest and relaxation
My Year of Rest and Relaxation Book Over

It’s important to highlight that this short novel is not only about a bizarre self-healing method, but it’s also a notable exercise of internal monologue and a cruel satire of America’s attitude towards mental health, as well as a mockery of the hedonist and exclusive late-90s/early-00s art world. Throughout the book, we’re given a better understanding of the protagonist’s familiar background, as her absent parents are the main reason behind her lack of emotional intelligence, respect for other people and self-esteem – as shown in the twisted relationship with her boyfriend Trevor. Her wide financial resources (obtained from her parents under sad circumstances, as the readers will find out) give her the possibility to access the medical care she needs – despite how arguable and inappropriate it can be; this element underlines the bitter and now well-known American reality where only those with money can afford healthcare, as well as the scary ease with which some doctors prescribe potentially harmful medication without properly visiting their patients. 

Moshfegh’s satire reaches also a more sociocultural level: at the beginning of the story, the protagonist, being an art history graduate, works listlessly for a contemporary art gallery that exhibits and sells mainly meaningless and obscene works. Here we have the description and brutal caricature of a rotten industry, controlled by hypocrites, where lazy rich kids come up with shocking and conceptual ideas, which legitimise their success and growing wealth: one of them is Ping Xi, a young artist represented by the gallery, who agrees to assist the main character during her hibernation in exchange for being allowed to conduct an art project/experiment while she sleeps.

Another relevant character is Reva, who insists on considering the protagonist her best friend despite being constantly treated badly by her. Reva comes across as naïve, insecure and caring: she also struggles to lead a satisfying and happy life, and her unexpected and sad epilogue makes the end of this novel particularly gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. 

My year of rest and relaxation is not a book for everyone: the writing is raw and maniacally meticulous in the description of the endless loop of coffee, mindless film-watching, sleeping pills, side effects, negative thoughts and emotions, surreal situations, idleness, anger and bitterness, which might be hard to digest for some readers. But for the more intrepid ones, Ottessa Moshfegh’s work can be a challenging experience and an excellent look into the depths of “sad girl” literature, where lightness is an illusion and an intriguing, weirdly seductive darkness is always around the corner.

Fashion Featured

Here’s How to Dress Like TV Characters

Are you amazed by TV fashion? Well, with just a bit of online help, maybe you can dress like tv characters from your favourite shows

Popular contemporary shows are known for their meticulously-thought fashion and the characters embodying their pieces. Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon were praised by their amazing costume department, as was the original Gossip Girl while it ran. 

But, those interested in buying some of these pieces tend to have a hard time finding them, or any replicas, online. Except for the most brand-apparent clothes, it’s hard to find some random, albeit fashionable, flats Blair Waldorf wore a decade ago just by searching on Amazon. 

The trend of finding out what TV characters and their actors wear on TV is as old as TV itself. And, in the early days of the internet, there were forums and Facebook groups dedicated to the task of helping fans dress like TV characters. But now, this process has become slightly more refined, with entire websites committed to finding as many replicas or dupes as possible. 

blair gossip girl
© Gossip Girl is just one of the many websites proposing solutions for fans who want to take a page out of the book of these shows. Basically, the site features a bunch of shows and pictures of their characters, identifying the pieces they wore or similar replicas that can be purchased online. It also has a site link to buy the piece on the spot, assuming they’re not sold out. While many of them could be already sold out or might not be the exact piece worn by that character, it’s a genuinely helpful pointer in the right direction for those walking the road of fashion.

The website also features outfits from Emily in Paris, Euphoria, Riverdale, Dynasty, Yellowstone and Black-ish. It also has a section for talk shows and reality shows, and a whole directory of Netflix shows you can choose from. Additionally, there are categories for men and plus-sized users, and a section for outlet shopping, in case you’d like to purchase outfits at a lower price.

Of course, even if you do decide to check out the website, there are bound to be a couple of pieces you’ll still have trouble finding. So, it’s not an exact science yet.

TV characters and celebrities tend to have dedicated fashion stylists and serve as inspiration for many brands. And, although even they don’t always get fashion right, they get it right more often than we do. So, it’s no surprise we’d also like to look like many of them.

Culture Featured

“Normal People” by Sally Rooney: Book Review

Normal People is a book that doesn’t need any big introductions

Normal People, written by Sally Rooney, could be considered the typical bestseller and it’s preceded by its on-screen fame. Also, as often happens when a piece of work is so widely popular, Normal People has proved very divisive – people either praise it or tear it down. 

Normal People is, after all, a simple story: the protagonists are two young people, Connell and Marianne, who live in a small town in Ireland and meet in the last year of high school. The narration follows what happens to them over the span of four years, from January 2011 to February 2015. At the beginning of the book, Marianne doesn’t have any friends – at school, everybody avoids and bullies her. While, Connell is popular and well-liked, even if he doesn’t make any true, meaningful friendships. The two meet, fancy each other, and life runs its course: school ends and both decide to attend the same university in Dublin, and it’s at this point that an overturning of roles happens. Now, Marianne has lots of friends, she’s charming and attractive but can’t build any healthy connections. On the other hand, Connell finds it difficult to fit in and feels like a fish out of water. But, the only certainty in the lives of both is that they’ll always be there for each other. 

sally Rooney
Sally Rooney @ Ellius Grace

The novel has many notable aspects: character development and the experience of growing up are undoubtedly the foundations of the plot. As time goes by, the courses of their own lives and their attempts as a couple shape Marianne and Connell’s personas. Their differing personalities and backgrounds affect the way they act and take decisions, which sometimes can pull them quite far apart, but it eventually results in making them realise how complementary they’ve become to each other. 

Social class and family are important features in Sally Rooney’s novels too: her characters are explicitly the product of their upbringing and Normal People is no exception to that. Marianne comes from an upper-middle-class background, which allowed her to grow up with all the economic privileges that come with it. But, her family is careless and abusive, and this has a profound impact on her self-esteem, as well as her romantic relationships and friendships. On the other hand, Connell is the son of a single mother who works for Marianne’s family as a housekeeper and the healthy, caring bond he has with her allows him to be more confident and conscious of familiar support in hard times. 

Another fundamental element is the portrayal of mental health issues, in particular in men. In fact, when the pair move to university, the novel especially focuses on Connell, who – as a consequence of the difficulties of his new student life and the tragic loss of a close friend – starts to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression which become more and more destabilising. After accepting his own vulnerability (not without fright), he asks for professional help and, also thanks to the support of his mother, his friends and Marianne, eventually learna to live with his condition. This is one of the most praised aspects of the novel, as the theme of men’s mental health is often minimised if not absent in books and films (as well as in general conversation), Rooney’s account of it is exceptionally accurate and respectful. 

Normal People On Screen Adaption
Normal People On Screen Adaption @ Edna Bowe

On the other hand, something that many readers didn’t particularly appreciate is the miscommunication trope. It’s undoubted that the two protagonists face many obstacles which they overcome in different ways, but sometimes Connell and Marianne miss many occasions of reconciliation because they don’t clearly communicate with each other. This expedient – although vastly present in numerous works – might give the impression of being used improperly in certain passages of the story, where a well-deserved step forward might have felt more appropriate instead. 

Sally Rooney is considered one of the most peculiar voices of the Millennial generation, but with Normal People, she delivered a truly universal piece of work. Although her novels are well-defined chronologically and geographically, they strike a chord with readers all around the world and the story of Marianne and Connell in particular can move and interest all generations, as nobody really knows what it means to be ‘normal people’.

Featured Gaming & Tech

Are Instagram Notes a Twitter Copycat?

Instagram Notes are the latest update added to the content-sharing social media giant

Since the launch of Instagram notes last month, most people have focused on sending notes requesting food or sharing PayPal & CashApp links. But, since Instagram has a track record of attempting to copy what other social media apps are doing successfully, this seems like their version of Twitter. They copied Snapchat with Instagram Stories; they copied TikTok with Reels and their backtracked attempt at a single-scroll feed.

Instagram Notes are messages that appear at the top of someone’s inbox. You slide to your DM’s, and you’ll see all these Instagram Story-like bubbles, but with text messages instead. You have the option of selecting followers who follow you back or your Close Friends as those who can see the notes. Notes can include text and emojis, and must be 60 characters or less.

Notes are available to all Instagram users except those based in the European Union, the UK, and Japan, who will get the features in early 2023. Other users have also reported not seeing the notes despite being part of these countries.

Businesses might be interested in using notes for promoting flash sales in a non-pushy way. As they don’t come with notifications and are only available in your inbox, they are more subtle than any other Instagram feature. Despite their relatively hidden location, they are also a good way to draw attention to an announcement, as they’re always at the top of your audience’s inbox, and away from the clutter of Instagram Stories.

Most people wondered who asked for Instagram notes, or what’s the overall purpose of them, at first. Of course, they asked these questions precisely using the notes feature, or by going on Twitter, its distant cousin.

After a couple of days with the notes active on Instagram, users have gotten more or less used to them, using them to comment on the events of their daily life, or popular worldwide events, like the FIFA World Cup.

Reception has been mixed, but since Instagram Notes seem to be here to stay, people are using them regardless. And, those who want them removed (expressed through Notes, of course) will probably have a better chance of being heard by screaming into the void.

The Instagram Notes feature was actually tested out several months prior to its implementation in specific countries, and only with certain users. Supposedly, Meta learned that people liked having lightweight, easy ways to share what’s on their minds and begin conversations with others. Notes give people a way to express themselves and contact each other.