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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Hot Milk, Deborah Levy

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“I confess that I am often lost in all the dimensions of time, that the past sometimes feels nearer than the present and I often fear the future has already happened.”

Rating:  ★★★

I bought this book on a whim when I was browsing the Waterstones ‘new releases’ last summer, yet it became a sort of ‘meant to be’ decision that tied in with fate. I began the novel last summer in a rented car, driving down the southern coast of Spain alongside my two loud sisters and underneath the scorching sun. Coincidentally, this was where the book was set. Andalusia is a beautiful region of the country and to be able to visit the places while immersed in the prose was a kind of surreal experience, making the narrative feel extremely personal and real. Think white-washed buildings, deep blue skies and seas – the romantic scenery is harmonic and gives an atmosphere of serenity.

The novel depicts young woman Sophia, her mother, and a lot of Medusa jellyfish. Sophia has halted her Anthropology doctoral thesis to look after her sick, hypochondriac mother, with a mysterious illness and their last resort is to visit a specialist doctor in Spain. There’s a relaxed energy to the novel; Sophia spends much of her time waiting for her mother’s illness to be discovered. She is essentially free in her current position, yet feels trapped by her mother’s illness. Hot Milk seems a particularly relevant title, referencing the femininity which is so central to the text. Hot milk signifies the bond between mother and daughter, and perhaps the more sensual aspect of the female breast. There are several androgynous aspects to the character of Sophia, and we see her attracted to both a young male and female.

The story is dreamy, drifting from reality to the imaginary – Sophia often questions what is real and what is not, while the reader feels so vividly the breeze of the ocean and the smell of the sand. Sophia has lost focus in her life, and Spain becomes a sort of ‘in-between,’ serving as a kind of disconnected point in reality and out of sync with the world. The novel perhaps serves more as a journey, for a meaning of consciousness. Sophia wants to find her place, and a reason for her life. The prose is fresh, and the stream of consciousness aspect works well with a narrative that focuses primarily on the inner world of the protagonist.

The novel is bizarre and hypnotic, yet fluffy at times – there is a lack of plot to bite into. I feel there was perhaps a deeper meaning that I might have missed; I just wish I could have connected to it more than I had.

 

Also, I don’t know whether anyone would be interested but I am considering featuring a few posts on my journals and how I approach the art. If you like the idea please hit me up!