Can You Tolerate This? Personal Essays by Ashleigh Young (Victoria University Press, 2016), 223 pp., $30
Sometime in 2008 in Wellington, my good friend John Paul and I met for coffee at the Milk Crate in Quilters Bookshop. He told me about how his younger sister Ashleigh was studying creative writing and that some of the non-fiction pieces she was working on were about him. I asked him how he felt about that, and I remember how he said, resigned, that in order not to fret about what the people you write about might think, his sister’s tutor had advised the students to ‘write about people as if they are dead’.
John Paul is a friend who always inspired me to stretch my vocabulary, and I always admired his clever insights and beautifully unique way of looking at and experiencing the world. And these 21 superbly observed personal essays by Ashleigh Young show that this is something that must run in the family. And her family, from her brothers John Paul and Neil to her parents Russell and Julia, feature in many of these pieces. Young has a stunning sense of the quietly absurd, dryly hilarious, woebegone and wistful angles of life. She’s a sensitive writer and these are thoughtful and observational pieces written in an authentic voice. [Read more…]