Book Review: Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young

Why should you read this book?

I really wanted to love Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young. I mean, it was perfect for me! It’s an essay collection about youth, ambition, anxiety, the challenges of personal transformation and disappointment! It sounds right up my alley, right? Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to connect to Young’s universe.

Why? I think that Can You Tolerate This? is a very uneven book. Some essays were interesting to read, namely one about body hair. But I didn’t respond to most of them, especially the first half of the book. This collection also felt like a mixed bag which makes it difficult to connect, to resonate with. In terms of writing, I think it’s a fine book. 

It also didn’t help that I was expecting something completely different – but that’s entirely my fault. When I dived into this book, I wasn’t expecting to find personal essays. This book can feel like a short story collection at times, with characters and a plot arc. I wasn’t in the mood for that. I thought I’d be reading reflections upon a certain topic and that didn’t happen. All combined resulted in a very indifferent reading experience.

I can’t say that I don’t recommend it because lots of people loved this book and it has been highly praised. It’s just my humble opinion! And if you’re interested in these topics, then you should give it a go. You might feel differently about it!

I’d like to thank Bloomsbury Publishing for sending a review copy. You can buy the book here.



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.

Book Details:
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Published on: August 2018
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 256


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