The Booker shortlisted novel ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yahangihara is a huge door stop of a book at just over 1800 pages, and it has been quite an experience reading it. Great novels have a habit of staying in your mind for a long, long time afterwards. I remember reading ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ in the 1960s and those final pages totally floored me. ‘A Little Life’ will probably have the same lasting effect on me, it is so well written, but it will also be because of its powerful unrelenting tragedy that it does so. The author has this nasty knack of keeping you transfixed by the ‘hero’s’ terrible world where one personal horror is replaced by another, worse than the previous one, and where just as you think it cannot possibly get worse, sure enough another dreadful happening is just around the corner. I couldnt put it down because I was left desparately hoping that there would be a happy ending, and there isn’t, though it is surely the mark of good writing where, inspite of the depressing violence and suffering portrayed, you just have to stay with it.
For me, Yahangihara’s description of the experience of bereavement was so exactly right as to be personally both cathartic and a virtual counselling exercise in itself, and alone made the book worth it.
One observation though.
One reviewer described this as the ultimate gay novel, but I hope it wont be, largely because it falls into the trap of so much past written work about homosexuality, namely that the condition is typified as essentially tragic. In many such previous novels the ‘hero’ almost always comes to some tragic end and that seemed to be the straight world typically saying, ‘you have been warned, being gay could be the death of you’.
If novelists are going to reflect our ‘new’ world of equality then it cannot be asking too much for us to read about gay situations which are both noble and inspiring, The ‘hero’, Jude, in this novel, doesnt uplift.
So, if you have a strong stomach, then have a go at ‘A Little Life’ but dont be surprised if, at some point, you find yourself literally crying out loud for just a little bit of happiness.
Merry Christmas, everyone!!!!!