A Little Life
Hi, it's been awhile since I have written a proper book review, so bear with me while I try to remember how to talk about literature. It is even coming up to that time of the year where I am going to talk about all the books that I have read since March (holy moly is that going to be one heck of a wrap up), but I just read one of the most incredible books and I wanted to share it with you all in its own little blog post instead of just in a list where it might get lost.
I have been putting off reading "A Little Life" since it first came out. The reviews about it were really mixed, but everyone agreed that it was one of the most depressing books that they had ever read and also it is mahoosive. So, I kept staring at this brick on my shelf thinking, do I want to be depressed today? No... and then picking up a YA love story and forgetting about it for another couple of months. That being said, it was in my top 5 books to read this year, so when it was time to find a book to bring on the cruise, I decided it would be a good choice. I like taking really intimidating books with me on holiday because it means that I have no choice but to get through them as that is my only reading material (also, it worked well for this one because it is hard to be depressed when you are casually sailing past some of the most beautiful scenery in the world). So, anyway, I have finished it and have a few thoughts to share with you:
This novel has some of the most real-feeling characters that I have ever encountered. Like, honestly, are we sure that these characters are not real? I am not convinced.
Also, the writing style? Flawless. Unlike other people, I do not think that it is too flowery or pretentious in the least. It is beautiful and it flows and also it is really easy to read. I think that if it was difficult to comprehend or too over-the-top that people would not bother since the size and subject matter are intimidating as it is.
I really love that the reader doesn't really know when the novel takes place. There are a few technology references here and there for the reader to recognise that it doesn't take place in the 60s or anything, but the lack of cultural references means that this story will perhaps stand the test of time a bit longer than similar books. The only reason that I bring this up is because I have seen a lot of criticism on this particular subject and thought I would throw in my own 2 cents.
Things that I don't really understand... I think this book needed a bit of editing. Not in the way a lot of people think (spelling errors, chopping sentences, weird transitions, etc) but just for a little bit of manoeuvering and calibration. When the novel first started and we were getting all of the boy's perspectives, I thought that we were going to follow them all equally throughout the entirety of the novel. I had heard a lot about Jude and Willem just from pop culture, so I knew that their stories were going to be important, but with the amount of times we got JB's perspective at the beginning, I thought he was going to play a much bigger role. You always see "A Little Life" merchandise with all 4 boy's names on it, but I think it is safe to say that it is really Jude's story through-and-through.
Also the sadness... I am sure you want to know if it is as bad as people say. It is. I had my mouth hanging open on deck, tears threatening to break through and when I finished it at home a week later, I had full-on crying happening much to my husband's horror. "Why do you read things that do this to you?" As much as I love a happy book that makes you smile, life and stories are full of other emotions as well, and anything that can make you feel any of those as keenly as "A Little Life" does is high in my books. Just a good ol' warning, though, this whole dang novel is one big trigger. If you are overly sensitive to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or struggle with self-harm, trust me when I say you might want to sit this one out or at least be aware that these pages are filled to the brim with that.
Holy smokes, guys. What the heck did I just read??
I knew it wasn't going to end happy, and I knew that it was going to end in Jude's demise. I could feel it. No way was this guy not going to commit suicide. We were warned early on about the possibility and likelihood of this happening. What I was not prepared for, however, was Willem.
Like.... why Willem?? What the heck did he ever do to anybody?? I want to know if the only reason Willem was killed off was because of Jude needing to die but knowing that he wouldn't do it if Willem was still around. But, also, must Malcolm and his poor wife be taken out in that process? Like, my poor heart is probably forever broken from that whole sequence.
I think the hardest part of it all, though, was that it wasn't ALL sad. If it was all sad then there would have been no hope to start with. I was almost crying with joy when Harold and Julia asked Jude if he wanted to be adopted by them and when Willem gave up the physical part of their relationship because he knew that Jude would not enjoy it at all even though it is what he wanted and all he ever said about it was that his heart heart that Jude would never get to know the joy that came from that. There is so much love and hope in this book as well, but it is because of those that make the sad parts so much sadder. The last part of the book was heart-wrenching and terrible, but I think what made it such a poignant few pages was the fact that it was written by Harold. This all-loving, big-hearted father figure that embraces everything that is right in the world that had to write about everything that was so very wrong in it.
One thing that I did struggle with is the fact that therapy did not help Jude at all, in fact I struggled with the fact that Willem started to turn away from it as well. I think if someone who is reading this can relate to any of these characters in any way that they probably need therapy and to speak out their truths and the fact that this dissuades that is a bit hard. I know that it is just a couple of characters and that therapy doesn't necessarily work for everyone, but it's hard because we were very aware throughout that Jude wasn't going to last and that therapy was going to be practically moot for him which I think is a hard message to pass along to sensitive, vulnerable souls that might be seeking themselves among the pages.
Finally, I want to discuss the hardest scenes for me because I want to get them off of my chest:
Every single time that Jude said sorry or that he said he was physically incapable to stopping the cutting. Ow. This man was so damaged that it almost didn't seem real but was also just real enough to be believable. It walked that line so closely that I don't think anybody could not be frustrated and angry and so incredibly sad about the pain that he was going through.
Now, while the abuse from his past was utterly horrifying and never ever easy to read,the part that really and truly ripped my heart apart was his short relationship with Caleb. The fact that something in the present reminded him that all of his worst fears rooted in childhood were true, especially when everything else in his present was what was keeping him going and alive. My jaw actually dropped in horror when he was pushed naked into the street and shoved down the stairs to hell. I also felt physically and viscerally ill when he was in the apartment after Jude's meal with Harold. Like I was so scared, that I had to go take a break and get a cup of tea because my muscles were would up so tightly in my body.
The scene where JB was so hyped up on drugs and fear that he made fun of Jude's disability. I think that will forever scar me. Also, speaking of JB, what the heck was that kiss about and was a resolution sought? I have no idea why that was included.
Where Jude found all of the files kept by Willem relating to himself, and saw the portrait JB did where Willem was watching Jude and STILL doubted that he was lovable.
When Jude told Willem that he was not Willem's brother.
Finally, when Harold found the CD of Jude singing to him after Jude had committed suicide.
If anybody would like to talk to me about the book, please feel free to comment, or if you have read it and found something similar, let me know, because I know without one shadow of a doubt that this book will stay with me forever and ever and would be interested to find others like it.