I have a friend on the other side of the world and we write occasional long-form emails to one another. Emails that are a delight and surprise when they PING into my inbox. Emails that I often plunder for inspiration and emails that serve as a transcript of our friendship. It was in one of these emails that I said I think this year is going to be the year of personal essays. I had thoughts of reading piles of essay collections (Zadie Smith, Roxane Gay, Rebecca Solnit). Instead, I’ve just read one essay collection over and over again: Too Much and Not The Mood.
Durga Chew-Bose’s debut essay collection Too Much and Not The Mood is a brilliant musing on writing, living alone, friendship, form, and family. The title is fittingly taken from a 1931 Virginia Woolf diary entry in which she writes “too much and not the mood” in regards to editing her work to please others. As a nod to this sentiment, Chew-Bose opens her collection with a 93-page tome of an essay—over a third of the book. ‘Heart Museum’ begins with an emoji, and fragments into tangents that seem unrelated but somehow all work.
The collection then moves onto shorter (but by no means lesser) essays that articulate the restlessness that comes with creativity. Instead of one theme or narrative or idea, Chew-Bose’s essays are the mind laid out like the veins of a city. The mind is not linear – there’s not one individual thought or one solitary tinkerbell feeling – but a circular conglomeration of memories, hopes, thoughts, feelings.
Chew-Bose has a near inhuman hyper sense of perception – she notices the colour in the corner of a painting and realises she never knew that colour existed before, she sees the beauty in a lone piece of fruit, or how lists have a seemingly lyrical quality to them. This perceptiveness is one I seem to lack as it took three weeks of biking around with this book in my basket before I looked down and saw that, just after the ‘not’, the ‘in’ was missing.
I stopped in the middle of the street and looked down at that gilt typography: Too Much and Not the Mood.
It’s like the Mood is all-encompassing and overwhelming—an entity in itself that cannot be flicked in and out of, but something that is embodied.
And it is an embodiment of mood that Chew-Bose (somehow, in a perfectly witchy way) articulates: the teenage obsession with the older popular girls and their perfectly messy hair, the library late at night, the perspectives of being a first generation child, going to the cinema in the middle of a summer’s day.
I want to see the world like Chew-Bose does, to luxuriate in the quality of the light, to delight in solitude, and to miss the crucial plot points because I’ve been too busy noticing the prose.
This review was originally written for, and published by Narrative Muse.