Too Much and Not the Mood, Durga Chew-Bose

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“A nook person finds the dog at the party; drinks wine from a mug; sits on the floor and braids carpet tassels only to become self-conscious and unbraid them.”

Rating: ★★★★★

I finished this book about ten minutes ago and felt such a need to review this and put my thoughts out there. Too Much and Not the Mood was everything I needed and more. Taking influence from Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary, Chew-Bose has seamlessly sewn together several essays exploring culture and identity.

The first (and longest) essay, ‘Heart Museum’ was one that particularly struck a chord with me. I had never found a text so relatable before. I found myself rereading sentences, memorising quotes, and read parts so slowly as to absorb every inch of new information I had received. Having read Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, I had assumed this would be comparable. But it exceeds and extends every preconception I had of personal essays. The writing was extremely cinematic and essays merged into poetic prose. Chew-Bose manages so tenderly to portray such thoughts that do seem inconceivable, and impossible to put into words.

I did feel, at times, that Chew-Bose was actually writing about my life, because it was so extremely personal. She is able to combine quite intellectual thoughts and weave them into everyday life narratives that are so easy to emphasise with. Such a fluidity to her writing allows you to read it at ease, and there is no force for understanding. It seemed to me that I needed this book at the precise times of reading it, and I read it slowly so I could take it in with such a depth that I could carry it forever.

I will admit that the essays following ‘Heart Museum,’ whilst still beautiful, I did not gain such a strong connection with. They were shorter, and I recommend reading one essay at a time, because they do merge into one. Chew-Bose talks about small, seemingly unimportant things in big ways. Her writing is new and she takes the subject of nostalgia and moulds it into something you have not read before. This was a book that I have spent late summer evenings, lazing in the warmth of the sun, pondering about. It was the book that I was so indulged in while sitting on the train, that I almost missed my stop. It was a book that makes me question what I was before I had actually read the book, and the book that made me realise who I was and what I need. I was different before I read this, but I can’t quite put my finger on the change.

It’s honest, stimulating and heart-warming. If you need a new, refreshing touch to prose, this is the book to read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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There but for the, Ali Smith

“Think how quiet a book is on a shelf, he said, just sitting there, unopened. Then think what happens when you open it.”

Rating: ★★★★

Primarily due to feeling quite awful about rating Girl Meets Boy so terribly, I thought I would review another of Smith’s books to show her writing in a different light because she is my favourite author and perhaps this time I will do her justice.

What I love so much about Smith’s writing is her blurring between boundaries. With the lack of speech marks, there’s often confusion between what is said and what is thought, and who is saying what. This sounds really confusing but its actually extremely clever in that it makes you think more in depth about the text. The title. There but for the what? There but for the grace of God go I? – A saying that essentially means you avoid the mistakes that others have made, yet understand them. Smith also wants us to view these four words as separate sections. There. But. For. The. Four different chapters of the novel.

Opening with a dinner party, Miles Garth takes himself upstairs and locks himself in one of the rooms, and doesn’t come out for months. The consequences of his actions are catalytic for the prose, and we see how he affects those around him. A character who is at first quite opaque, Miles Garth is shown to us through other characters, particularly Anna K. The novel is not entirely present, and we go back 20 years or so ago. It’s about communication, relationships. How you can lose contact so quickly with someone who meant so much to you before. There isn’t much plot. We are missing the last word of this sentence; for the what? More importantly – WHY? Why did Miles Garth lock himself in the guest room during this dinner party? Why does he eventually leave the room? The novel poses a lot of questions that are left unanswered, this lack of core in this story is what the prose evolves around. Miles is merely the connection between the four parts of the story. He has a relationship with all four of these people, and thus he is more of a pivotal point within the novel rather than the protagonist.

I find it incredibly difficult to know what to write or what to think about Ali Smith’s work. All I know, is that I loved this novel. It is hard to review because I’ve nothing to compare it to, and not a real plot to consider it a real story but rather a mixture of narratives and timelines, that have, at one point in time, crossed over. Her prose, as always, is lyrical and beautifully put. Such indulgent language is intellectual and filled with wordplay. It is a rewarding read and although at times confusing, I highly recommend.