Author(s): Ashleigh Young
An Elle Ultimate Summer Read'
Beautiful, unusual and memorable ... I love this book' MAGGIE NELSON, author of THE ARGONAUTS
In Can You Tolerate This? - the title comes from the question chiropractors ask to test a patient's pain threshold - Ashleigh Young ushers us into her early years in the faraway yet familiar landscape of New Zealand: fantasising about Paul McCartney, cheering on her older brother's fledging music career, and yearning for a larger and more creative life. As Young's perspective expands, a series of historical portraits - a boy with a rare skeletal disease, a French postman who built a stone fortress by hand, a generation of Japanese shut-ins - strike unexpected personal harmonies, as an unselfconscious childhood gives way to painful shyness in adolescence. As we watch Young fall in and out of love, undertake intense physical exercise that masks something deeper, and gradually find herself through her writing, a highly particular psyche comes into view: curious, tender and exacting in her observations of herself and the world around her. How to bear each moment of experience: the inconsequential as much as the shattering? In this spirited and singular collection of essays, Ashleigh Young attempts to find some measure of clarity amidst the uncertainty, exploring the uneasy tensions - between safety and risk, love and solitude, the catharsis of grief and the ecstasy of creation - that define our lives.
Like some sort of contrast medium, Ashleigh Young’s prose penetrates the fissures and fine vessels of her experiences so that when the reader turns their attention to her texts, subtleties and depths and dimensions hitherto unsuspected yet somehow deeply familiar are revealed and remain imprinted upon memory. The medium flows particularly into areas of ordinary damage (her personal sadness, discomfort, awkwardness, anxiety) and resolves here into twenty-one personal essays which lucidly yet with an almost tender subtlety picture the shared concerns (time, family, memory, the body, love, loss) with which we must constantly contend if we are to be aware of something we take to be ourselves. There is a certain lightness to Young’s touch, and often a concomitant humour, that allows her to describe and circumnavigate the heavy without snagging herself or us upon it, to treat delicately with subjects about which most writing is clumsy through its attempts to be profound. The essays that I remember most are those that acknowledge the dimensions of ambivalence that exist around their subject: the tangle of love and irritation around a childhood dog, her meditations on the hair on her lip, or her growing dislike for Katherine Mansfield in the midst of general adulation during her tenure at the Birthplace in Tinakori Road. The best pieces are those in which Young knows she does not need more than a few pages to be succinct, insightful and good company.
Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction
Winner of Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2017 - General Non Fiction.
2017 Windham-Campbell Prize for non-fiction.
'This is a brave, sometimes confronting, always intriguing, often compelling and distinctly unusual book. The essays are consistently entertaining in a way that is rare in literary nonfiction of any kind. The voice is one which readers will fall in love with.' -Martin Edmond
'Some of Ashleigh Young's personal essays feel to me like beautifully told short stories - they just happen to be true, or true-ish.' -Bill Manhire
Ashleigh Young works as an editor in Wellington and teaches creative science writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her poetry and essays have been widely published in print and online journals, including Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction, Five Dials (UK) and The Griffith Review (Australia). Can You Tolerate This? is her second book; her first was the poetry collection Magnificent Moon (VUP, 2012).
She gained an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2009, winning the Adam Prize. She blogs at eyelashroaming.com.