I am championing Ashleigh Young’s collection of essays ‘Can You Tolerate This?’ as part of the Rathbones Folio Prize blog tour today. The eight books on this year’s shortlist include four novels, a novella, two non-fiction books and a collection of poetry whittled down from a list of 80 works published in the UK in 2018 chosen by members of the Folio Academy.
‘Can You Tolerate This?’ is Young’s non-fiction debut (she is also a poet) and tackles a diverse range of subjects, mostly leaning towards her own personal experiences of growing up in Te Kuiti in New Zealand as well as a smattering of historical portraits and other topics too. The 20 essays in this collection include her experience of working as the manager at Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace (‘Katherine Would Approve’), Japanese recluses known as hikikomori (‘Sea of Trees’), 19th century French postal worker Ferdinand Cheval (‘Postie’) and her resentment towards a childhood pet (‘Black Dog Book’). However, the main recurring theme in her work is the body, from the short opening essay about a patient with two skeletons (‘Bones’) to musings on her own body hair (‘Wolf Man’) poor eyesight (‘Absolutely Flying’) and yoga and her eating disorder treatment (‘Bikram’s Knee’).
Overall, the strengths of Young’s essays lie in her ability to capture the odd, unusual and surreal moments in life whether they are mundane or life-changing from an entirely original perspective. The title essay recounting a visit to the chiropractor is the piece which really stands out in my mind as the most striking and genuinely affecting piece of writing in this collection. For the most part, Young’s prose style is generally quite focused but the longer-form essay ‘Big Red’ in which she reflects on her relationship with her older brothers, JP and Neil, has a more meandering structure. She also experiments with writing in the first, second and third person.
‘Can You Tolerate This?’ is an engaging and truly eclectic collection of essays which I would recommend to curious readers. I’m pleased that Young’s talent has been recognised by the Rathbones Folio Prize judges and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
The winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize will be announced on Monday 20th May. Have you read any of the shortlisted books?
In other book prize news this week, the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize has been awarded to Murmur by Will Eaves, a novel loosely based on the life of Alan Turing, which coincidentally was also longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize this year. Chair of the judging panel, Elif Shafak, described ‘Murmur’ as a future classic and revealed that the decision to award the £30,000 cheque to Eaves was unanimous, with ‘Murmur’ becoming the third novel to win in the 10-year history of the prize. However, the shadow panel was a little more divided over ‘Murmur’ and in the end, our winner was The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein which we all agreed was a unique, memorable and fascinating biography. Rebecca, Laura and I attended the awards ceremony on Wednesday night – you can read Rebecca’s blog post about the event here.