Tuesday, 21 April 2020

A Little Life – To Read or Not to Read? (Mindscape Reviews)

Hi Readers! After a couple of weeks of intensive reading, I have finally finished reading Hanya Yanagihara’s ‘A Little Life’, and boy, what a story! I finished it a couple of days back & yet I’m still thinking about it. The thing with this book is, if you get attached to it, you are bound to ignore all the problems & the little flaws that it has. This clearly happened with me. On the other side, if you don’t get attached to it, all you will see is a repetitive story line, grotesque details & an unsatisfactory ending. I should warn you, this is going to be a really LONG POST because I have a LOT OF FEELINGS TO SHARE! Also, it contains minor (not major) spoilers! Let’s get to it, shall we?

Anyone who wishes to read this book, please know that it contains a lot of disturbing things such as child abuse, sexual abuse, toxic relationships, self-mutilation, suicide, rape, drug addiction & violence. There are a lot of triggers & it is absolutely inadvisable to read for people who have suffered or are sensitive to these topics. I know it’s a pretty boring way to start the review, but I honestly don’t want people to read this if it is going to affect them in a negative way.

I did a lot of research after reading the book. Some of the reviews claim the book to be ‘THE GREAT GAY NOVEL’. Some claim it to be an ‘EPIC TALE OF FRIENDSHIP’. A few have said it is ‘TORTURED PORN’. It is neither of these. It is the story of one person – ‘JUDE ST. FRANCIS’. It revolves around his horrific childhood, all the people connected to him as he grows into adulthood & his mental health. The book starts out as something but grows & ends up in something entirely different. It’s like we can actually see the author trying to find her way through the novel. In any other case, I would have found that annoying, but in this case, it feels like it’s a secret between the author & the reader.

The novel starts with the four of them; Jude, Willem, Malcolm & JB.
Jude St. Francis with a horrific childhood later becomes a mentally unstable adult yet an intimidating lawyer. Willem Ragnorrson works at a restaurant called Ortolan but later becomes a famous movie star. Malcolm Irvine joins a firm but later starts his own business in architecture. Jean-Baptiste Marion has always been the most talented artist. Over the novel, we see how their friendship strengthens & weakens but lasts for 30+ years. Some of the other recurring friends are Richard; also an artist, Andy; Jude’s doctor, Harold; Jude’s Law Professor & Friend, Julia; Harold’s wife, Asian Henry Young & Black Henry Young; from college days, Richard & Citizen; from US Attorney Office where Jude used to work earlier, Lucein; from Rosen Pritchard where Jude works now. Yes, there are A LOT OF CHARACTERS, but it is never confusing & just adds to the beauty of it.

When you decide to read a 720-page book, you commit yourself to it. It’s not just another book. It’s something you stick to, even when the story doesn’t go your way. Pretty much like a relationship. Soon after I started reading, I found myself eternally bound to the characters. I was so attached to them. My happiness knew no bounds when Harold & Julia adopt Jude. I cried every single time something terrifying happened to Jude. I was so impressed with JB’s art that I wanted to see all his paintings & same with Willem’s movies. I wanted to visit the Lantern House to actually see Malcolm’s architectural brilliance in it. All the moments in the book I have imagined in my head & lived it along with all of them. Such is the INTENSITY of the book. You cannot not feel emotions while reading it. And if you cannot, you shouldn’t read it at all.

Many reviews mentioned how all of Jude’s friends were enablers, but I beg to disagree. I think this is the REALITIES OF FRIENDSHIP that the writer has created. All of them are real & practical to one another. Usually the ‘Friends Forever’ stuff we read in books is a bunch of crap not portraying actual friendships.

The part where Jude & Willem entirely stop talking to JB is real; it happens.
The part where initially Willem is hesitant to talk to Jude about his cutting is real; it happens.
Jude helping JB get off of drugs even though he knows it’s of no use is real; it happens.
Also, I liked how real all of their relationships were: on-off, breakups, no one wanting to have a child.
All this is real, it happens!

You mess up in friendships, you get angry at your friends, sometimes you make up, sometimes you don’t. That’s just how life is, which, I think, is depicted quite truthfully.

In contemporary books such as these, there are usually two timelines which catch up in the end, which is a component in this book as well. But in such cases, almost always, there are periods mentioned (like in All the Light We Cannot See or in The Time Traveller’s Wife), but there are no periods mentioned in this. There is NO HISTORICAL CONTEXT either. No idea what era the story is from. I thought that was beautiful in a way. The book is long enough, who needs those additional details anyway, right? This is one of the reasons I loved the PROSE. The author has done such a fabulous job. Yes, a few things could have been cropped out. But, her WRITING STYLE IS SO POWERFUL that it can make the reader cry. And, that in my opinion, is the highest level of compliment.

Now, about the characters! I really liked how there are SO MANY CHARACTERS throughout the novel. Some are important, some are recurring & some are just to beautify the story. As much as I loved the first chapter about their earlier more care-free days, I think it was quite brief. I would have loved to read about all the shenanigans they did at their apartment in Lispenard Street. I think that was the perfect start to prepare us for all the suffering that followed. (Haha, not kidding.) I also liked how all the men were so emotional & cried freely & relied on their male friends. I don’t know if this is normal, but it was nice to know that something like this could exist.

I know there are a lot of things in Jude’s childhood which are written in a quite detailed & grotesque manner. The way the author writes about the cruelties of his childhood was something else. But also, it seems a bit impossible. One person having to go through so much, it does seem UNBELIEVABLE. I think a few things could have been cut to reduce the level of abuse. Also, in other books, there is always therapy that fixes such a person, but that’s hardly the case here. I wasn’t a fan of how THERAPY didn’t work.

I was also disappointed about THE GAY ANGLE leading to Jude & Willem’s relationship. I know there was no way around it, because if Jude had to trust someone, it had to be Willem. Being in a relationship just made his feelings come out more naturally. So, I’ll let it slide.

I was also not very satisfied with the CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, especially Jude’s, because there isn’t much to it. We see his entire life unfold before us, page after page. And yet, when we are at the end, it looks a lot REPETITIVE & UNWORTHY. But, the character development of all other characters, especially Willem, Malcolm, JB, Harold, Richard, Lucein is commendable. This leaves me to confess that I wasn’t a fan of the ENDING. But, I can understand why it ended the way it did.

I know it looks like there are a lot of points to not read the book, but the thing is you won’t think about these little points when you are actually reading it. It will never occur to you because you will be engrossed in the story! And, these are such minuscule details that it won’t even matter. And, I’m not only saying this because I really want you all to read the book. I am saying because it’s how I felt. Reading this book feels exactly the same way Jude feels when he keeps cutting himself. It is painful, yes, but it is also a release of emotions. Just as it keeps him from shouting, so it does for the reader. It is sadist and yet there is beauty in it. It is intense yet there is joy in it. It is something else & you won’t know until you read for yourself.

I have naturally rated it at 5/5 on Goodreads & it’s among my Top 5 Favourite Books of All Time. By reading this, I have completed the category of ‘Book with 500+ Pages’ from my Reading Challenge!

I had to wait a few days to let out all my thoughts & feelings about A Little Life from my system. Now, I obviously need to read something light. I will start reading ‘Scrappy Little Nobody’ by Anna Kendrick soon enough!

Until next time,

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