Sunday, 9 April 2017

A LIttle Life - book review

Spotted the book on someone’s desk while roaming around the office, recalled had heard some time earlier it had been a bestseller in the USA in 2015 and instantly grew curious whether A Little Life deserved that much attention.

The bookowner  (with whom I orally shared my thoughts beforehand) warned me I would struggle to waddle through first pages, as the narrative in first chapter is quite chaotic and a reader needs to take some effort to find his way around characters, links between them and the plot in general. Besides, my second impression was that I was becoming engrossed in a novel on gay community. While I carried on reading, this turned out to be just a misgiving and although the book does not centre around homosexuals, they and their relationships play a vital role in it.

Critics in their reviews claim A Little Life is a novel on manifold aspects of growing up, shirking it, deferring it, holding it back. Indeed, at the certain time, main characters have turned 30, however refuse to act like full-blown adults, yet I believe it is untrue they insist to remain adolescent over their lifetime. They just reach certain milestones in life (such as engaging a mature romantic relationship) later than their peers and later than proscribed by generally accepted social norms.

The book carries some general messages that virtually everyone who has read the book (it has become all-the-rage, changing hands often, around the office) has received. These are universal truths on life one should know in tackling what fate brings.

Firstly, the balance of evil and good one receives over lifetime stays close to zero. I have noticed it myself that the more misfortunes fall on a human, the more emphatic people are induced to lend them a helping hand. The main character of the book, Jude, also gets the evil and the good balanced over his lifetime, however though the proportions are in order, they are spread over time unfairly. His childhood is filled with evil and this impacts his ability and receive good in his adult life.

Secondly, while a reader encounters so much evil Jude is bestowed in his childhood, they learn appreciate what they have and what they have been spared. The story of Jude looks like an example how much suffering one man can be bestowed with and although his testimony proves he has survived, damages done to his psyche are irreversible.

A Little Life is also an in-depth study of depression. The illness is not a single time named in the book, but symptoms the main character exhibits clearly indicate his adult life is a losing battle against the mental ailment. The book plays up the important fact about depression many fail to accept, namely that a human can come down with it no matter how good their life is (though factors conducive to development of the illness must not be played down).

For those who still believe a human can be shaped throughout their entire life, the novel is a reminder that formative years, which end around the time one becomes adult, have tremendous impact on the whole adult life. Harms inflicted in childhood and teenage years stand no chance to be erased from one’s memory and are bound to continue to be a drag on one’s psyche, no matter how firmly one cuts off the past.

All in all, I would recommend the book to a patient and open-minded reader who is not afraid of 800-pages-long journey from cover to cover. The story could have been squeezed into by one-third lower number of pages, hence sometimes a reader might have to resist the temptation to skip passages which bring little value added to the plot. The ones, however I wanted to omit were either abhorrent, detailed descriptions of Jude’s self-injuries, or far too long and emotional deep insights into romantic relationship between men, however the latter I would put down to simple lack of affinity with homosexuals.

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