In brief: Don’t Think, Dear; My Nemesis; Handmade – reviews

A thoughtful memoir casts a critical eye on ballet, a gripping novel digs deep into feminine rivalry and a bracing manifesto extols the virtue of woodcraft

Don’t Think, Dear: On Loving and Leaving Ballet

Alice Robb
Oneworld, £16.99, pp304

Like so many girls, Alice Robb dreamed of becoming a ballerina. It seemed within her grasp until she grew too tall, too broad of hip. She’s gone on instead to make a career as a science writer and journalist but it’s been hard to relinquish all that ballet taught her about her female self, from the submissiveness it demands to the toxic body-shaming. Nor has she stopped loving its artistry and rigour. Her nuanced, intimate mashup of memoir, reportage and cultural criticism takes its title from the words of ballet god Balanchine, offering a timely feminist look at an art form that so often inspires melodrama when critiqued (just think of the film Black Swan).

My Nemesis

Charmaine Craig
Grove Press, £12.99, pp192

After New Yorker Tessa publishes a book about Camus, a lively, not to say flirtatious, epistolary exchange of ideas with LA philosopher Charlie sparks a genuine friendship. Fortunately, their respective spouses – retired Milton and Wah, a university lecturer – also seem to get along and all four enjoy a series of bicoastal get-togethers. Then comes the moment over dinner when Tessa, three martinis in, accuses Wah of being an insult to women. That’s where Charmaine Craig chooses to begin her novel and in the pages that follow she dissects the incident’s origins and motivations. Tessa, the narrator, is uneasily compelling, her flagrant unreliability adding intrigue to a plot in which discourse around race, motherhood and marriage becomes highly combustible.

Handmade: Learning the Art of Chainsaw Mindfulness in a Norwegian Wood

Siri Helle
Granta, £9.99, pp208 (paperback)

As delightfully incongruous subtitles go, Handmade’s is hard to top, but its zen vibes don’t really do justice to the book’s crusading spirit. This is a call to, if not arms, then certainly tools. Along with most of her countryfolk in 21st-century Norway, journalist Siri Helle makes her living using her mind rather than her hands, but since inheriting a dilapidated woodland cabin, she’s become an ardent believer in the sustaining, almost spiritual power of physical endeavour. In a narrative that loosely follows her sometimes clumsy attempts at building herself a privy, she resists the urge to romanticise the past, instead asking questions that challenge and beguile while celebrating everyday, functional creativity. Think William Morris without the Luddite leanings.


Hephzibah Anderson

The GuardianTramp

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