REVIEW │ The Rules Do Not Apply │ Ariel Levy

Book 1

I mentioned this memoir briefly in my previous post, but had to do a full review because it’s a magically beautiful book that every girl should read. It’s by Ariel Levy, a staff writer for the prestigious New Yorker, who had cultivated an enviable life: her career was successful and creative (the dream), she travelled the world and got paid to do it, she owned her own home and she was happily married. But, the life she had garnered, through her tenacity, her desire and her belief that the rules truly don’t apply, came crashing down around her, with the harsh reality that “the future I thought I was meticulously crafting for years has disappeared”.

This book is an examination of human desire and great loss. It delves into some of the big and small decisions that Levy made throughout her life, on her journey to become the kind of woman “who is free to do whatever she chooses”, that she feels have subsequently impacted negatively on her existence. Isn’t that kind of control something we all crave, though? To be in charge of our own lives, our path, where we’re heading and to a certain extent, what we feel we deserve? But being free to choose what we want can leave us feeling unnecessary guilt when things go awry. This is something Levy explores thoroughly in the book, as she questions whether we bring on tragedies and losses when we are “too fervent, too forceful, too much”. The book is heartbreaking in its raw and unflinching look at grief and loss, and what it takes to rebuild a life after such devastation.

Levy’s writing style is wonderful. At times anecdotal, at others painfully beautiful and self reflective and often, like an old friend who makes you want to examine your own life and your own choices. She’s brutal in her critique of her past decisions and attitudes, offering a searing portrait of a brilliantly fierce woman who happened to experience several unfortunate tragedies through no fault of her own. The loss of her child was not her fault, but no matter how many healthcare professionals stated this fact to her, she still felt she had “selfishly” brought on herself. Levy is an incredible writer and the stakes are unfathomably high because we know all the memories and experiences are true. Her memoir is stunning. Levy manages to capture all human emotions, worries, fears, desires and the most private, intimate thoughts in a truly miraculous book. I found Levy gloriously relatable, but I feel her writing style and her deep understanding of humans will mean anyone will relate to this startling, gorgeous memoir.

After finishing this book, I had a lot of major thoughts and you will undoubtedly experience the same unrelenting questions and feelings after reading it. I wrote the following passage when trying to process some of my own thoughts, worries and desires. I was particularly focused on the idea that we could bring things on ourselves:

When my mother was younger, she developed an obsession with Alexandra Bastedo, the star of one her favourite childhood programmes, The Champions. My mother used to wander around her neighbourhood sucking her cheeks in to give the illusion of high cheekbones, in an effort to look like Bastedo. She told new neighbours her name was Sharron, Alexandra’s character’s name, and was only found out when they came knocking on her door weeks later and asked my Grandma if Sharron could come out to play. As I was maturing into adulthood, my mother would point out how lucky I was to have high cheekbones and how much she’d wanted them herself as a preteen.

I started to believe that if you wanted something enough or were just the right amount of obsessed; you could bring whatever it was into your life. Would this mean my future daughter would never struggle to sleep? That she’ll be a good dancer and avoid my two left feet? That she’ll be naturally gifted with numbers? That she won’t have any of the superficial physical things I dislike about my appearance?

Do we will things into existence or is life just pretty brilliant at throwing beautiful, bizarre coincidences into the mix? And what of those negative, dark obsessions? The kind that keep you up at night, tossing harrowing scenarios around your mind as your body tosses restlessly amongst the sheets? Life is random, that much we all know. It can be beautiful and tragic and wonderful and hard. But we aren’t in control of it; we don’t will things into existence, life just happens. Despite knowing all of these things to be true, I can’t help but fear some of the scenes my mind plays out in the darkness. When sleep evades me, it’s more often than not because I am panicking about an imaginary, undesired scenario coming true. Waking up in a hospital bed confronted by sad, pitying expressions slapped across the faces of my nearest and dearest. I hope my mind is merely playing cruel tricks and that no amount of foreshadowing, over-thinking or ferocious wanting can bring such fears into existence. Because if we can will the good into fruition, then we can will the bad. I do hope life is just a beautiful, weird coincidence. After all, I was born on Alexandra Bastedo’s birthday.

Thanks for reading my review, I know it’s a little different to my usual reviews but I hope you like it nonetheless! Let me know in the comments below if you’ve read any of Levy’s amazing work.

Thanks again, chums!

Jess XO


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