The Rules Do Not Apply

Ariel Levy

The Rules Do Not Apply
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The Rules Do Not Apply

Ariel Levy

‘I wanted what we all want: everything. We want a mate who feels like family and a lover who is exotic, surprising. We want to be youthful adventurers and middle-aged mothers. We want intimacy and autonomy, safety and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can’t have it all.’

Ariel Levy picks you up and hurls you through the story of how she lived believing that conventional rules no longer applied - that marriage doesn’t have to mean monogamy, that aging doesn’t have to mean infertility, that she could be ‘the kind of woman who is free to do whatever she chooses’. But all of her assumptions about what she can control are undone after a string of overwhelming losses.

‘I thought I had harnessed the power of my own strength and greed and love in a life that could contain it. But it has exploded.’

Levy’s own story of resilience becomes an unforgettable portrait of the shifting forces in our culture, of what has changed - and what never can.


Ariel Levy’s first book, Female Chauvinist Pigs (2005), was an influential feminist work on raunch culture and the sexualisation of women. In the 12 years since its publication, Levy has written primarily for the New Yorker, including a remarkable, award-winning essay ‘Thanksgiving in Mongolia’, which documented a traumatic experience while travelling overseas. The events of that essay are the driving force behind her much more personal second book, The Rules Do Not Apply.

At roughly 200 pages, The Rules Do Not Apply is a short, intense, often wrenching memoir. It roams widely in the beginning, examining Levy’s parents’ marriage and her early career, before whittling itselfdown into a narrative about Levy’s own marriage, leading to that one terrible day in Mongolia and the domino effect of outcomes that followed it.

Unflinching in its honesty, Levy paints an unflattering portrait of herself as a wife and partner, digging into her most selfish choices and examining her every neurosis. This is an extremely intimate work, almost shockingly so, as Levy lays bare not just her own secrets but those of her spouse, Lucy, as well.

Levy may be criticised for the details of her privileged existence, but that’s also the point of the book – Levy thought herself invincible, deliberately looking away from the darkest corners of her marriage. When tragedy struck, it exposed the fragility of the life she had built. Levy writes beautifully; this memoir will appeal to fans of Jenny Offill, Rachel Cusk, or Elena Ferrante, for the way it digs into women’s lives, ambitions, losses and darkest longings.

Nina Kenwood is the marketing manager for Readings.

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