Monday, 1 May 2017

Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young

With apologies to Ashleigh Young, this book had not been on my radar until Young was in the news for winning an international literature prize recently.

Can you Tolerate This? is a fabulous read. Young has written personal essays that I found very engaging; she makes the ordinary interesting, and captures details of people and place so well.

My favourite story is Big Red, about Young's musician brother JP who is so cool and yet not cool. JP is entirely himself and does not care about his appearance. The ugly red bomber jacket on the cover of the book depicts the hand-me-down worn constantly by him ('you're not wearing that out are you?’) until eventually a friend wrestles it off of him and mysteriously disposes of it. The story is evocative of growing up in small town New Zealand and the expectation to fit in:

"Hamilton always let you know when you were drawing too much attention to yourself"

Other essay topics include conversations with strangers on a plane; living with an eating disorder; developing a crush on a chiropractor (‘can you tolerate this?’ relates to physical manipulation and discomfort), and the world of hikikomori – the unusual phenomenon of young Japanese men who shut themselves away from society for months or years at a time. These essays are quirky, a pleasure to read, and seem effortless.

Young won the prestigious and secretive Yale University Windham-Campbell Literature prize earlier this year. So secretive that Young initially dismissed the email notification of the prize as spam. Oh, and she won $230 000. Although most of the essays have a somehow essentially New Zealand flavour, Young’s expression of the human condition is obviously universal.

Can You Tolerate This? is a great book for anyone who is in a reading slump – the essays read like great short stories that can be picked up and put down until, like me, you are hooked.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link: Can You Tolerate This

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