It has been a while since I have felt emotionally invested enough in a book to talk, much less write about it. Perhaps the few times I have actually penned down my thoughts on a book on my own accord was when I grew conflicted reading Richard the Third for A’s, and was bemused by a man so evil, conceited and blind but yet so tragically alone, I found it too easy, almost like a favour to him, to simply hate.
There were a couple of books in between that I could identify with. One of which is McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a true American classic. It revolved around one singular man, Mr Singer, who despite being a deaf mute managed to somehow provide comfort, company and solace to the characters in the book. The book is extremely beautifully written and McCuller possesses the ability to bring out people’s intense desire to be heard intensifying this emotion through the portrayal of other characters choosing to seek company from a deaf mute for it was only him who appeared willing to spend hours “listening” to their stories. I think apart from Mr Singer, my favourite character in that book is Jake Blount, a brutish individual who is constantly drunk and full of rage. What I loved most was how while everyone else’s presence proved to be antagonising, the relationship he established with Mr Singer, ends up being gentle, endearing almost, where they live with each other in a small room, moving silently past each other, establishing some sort of rhythm together.
Some other books I loved – The history of love as well as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan but as usual, I digress.
This post is meant to be dedicated solely to Yanagihara’s work of art and it shall remain so.
Having read about 80% of the book, I fully comprehend why this book has so many accolades to its name; even winning the Man Booker Prize award, which is basically the award to win if your book is to be published in the United Kingdom. And yes, I am writing even before having completed the book.
From start to end (wherever I have read till, my kindle says 83%), A Little Life, has been extremely compelling, drawing me in so deep, I feel like I am watching the story unfold just from outside the rings. The book kicks off by introducing the various characters, and Yanagihara does a very good job of it. In the first few pages, a broad understanding of the different characters is established – young, fresh out of college, coming from vastly different backgrounds – Jude (orphaned), JB (the one with the parents who adored him) and then there is William (an actor who has not had his big break) and Malcolm (who possess skills but has yet to get noticed by the principal architects), eager to make it in the real world, but apprehensive.
Yanagihara captures these conflicting emotions very well, and she shows that she fully understands the struggles and complexities of growing up as she brings us through the journey of these 4 young men.
The book quickly evolves though, and while the four characters remain very part of the story, it is clear that Jude has somehow risen to the centre. In fact, the achievements that Jude earned as a litigator was always emphasised more than the achievements Malcolm, JB or even William achieved. And perhaps, rightly so because while all the other 3 young men were, to a large extent, normal, Jude was not. While the other characters do grow (and this should not be undermined – death, career breakthroughs, breakups), it is still evident that the story is largely centred around Jude’s growth, his relationships and of course, the “things” he would do to himself.
And perhaps this is where the entire story reveals itself. The dark, traumatic past that ties down a man so strong like Jude is almost shocking. The juxtaposition between how he is ruthless almost, in court and how he behaves at 2am, when he is alone, slumped against the toilet walls, cutting himself to relieve the pain from the hyenas of the past howling and haunting him, only served to play up how weak he was despite the strong, nonchalant front he put up in front of others.
Bit by bit, Jude slowly reveals the reasons behind his incessant and obsessive need to inflict pain on himself. And to deem it as horrifying does not even cut it. With every layer revealed, something even more horrific lies beneath and I know, I really know that I should put this book down for it is way too dark for my liking. But yet at the same time, there is a draw that sucks me into the hole, and perhaps over time, I have established a rapport with Jude, a tenderness for this broken soul that sees me wanting to reach out, grab him and reassure him that he will be alright and he does not have to cut himself to feel alive, that drives me deeper into the book.
There is now a need to know what has made my Jude the way he is for how much atrocity does a man have to face to see such a strong desire to cut himself continuously for a good part of his life? How much suffering and torture must he have gone through to find it completely acceptable to offer his body in exchange for favours? What must have been said to him to completely brainwash his young mind, filling it with filthy untruths, so much so that he believed, with his entire soul, that he was so undeserving of love, kindness and real, genuine friendship? What could have happened to him to strip him off all chances to love and to trust, the two most basic things any human should be able to possess?
And yet this strangely does not lure and seal me into extreme doom. Every single time, Yanagihara offers me an olive branch of a possibility that Jude might actually end up being happy, I take it, only to realise that this happiness is temporal, short lived at best. The strangest of all though is that these moments of happiness, while fleeting for me, is crucial to Jude. It strengthens him, and gives him hope to continue journeying through the pages of the story and I see it as he ends up functioning better than he would usually.
And soon, I begin to realise what Yanagihara is doing.
This is indeed life for some, where each glimmer of hope is what they hold on to, to inch forward slowly into another day where each small sliver of light brings with it possibility that tomorrow will be a better day. And while I may find that hard to understand, all I need to recognise is that this is indeed a good enough drug to push some to live for that one more chance at having a better life.
Friendship is also an extremely strong aspect in this book and it is the only thing that remains as constant as the pain Jude inflicts on himself. In her 700 plus pages, Yanagihara succinctly captures the true complexity of friendship – love, jealousy, quarrels, bitterness, admiration, obsession – where it is almost like the real thing, if not the real thing itself.
All I can say is that in an era where trashy books are aplenty, this book transports us to another world where instead of sex, real genuine relationships take centre stage. Real issues are explored and while not all of us go through the process where we have to mutilate ourselves (thank god for that), this book holds something rare and true about the love shared between friends in a world that is most unforgiving.
There is so much more for me to say and this has been an incredibly haphazard post, but this book has kept me up for so many nights and I really needed a space to articulate my thoughts.