However, I have been avidly following the (wo)man booker shadow reading group here. It was thanks to their reviews that I made A Little Life my priority read out of the list.
There is a lot of love for this book out there in blogger land…and I can now see why.
But I’m not so sure it’s worthy of winning the Booker.
A while back I read Amanda Foreman (one of the judges from 2012) comments about the judging process which made me realise that the judges read all the books in the longlist five times each to get to this point:
There are monthly meetings usually lasting somewhere between four and five hours, until the list of 146 titles is whittled down to sixty, then forty, then twenty, and finally twelve. After each stage of winnowing, the surviving books are re-read and re-evaluated.
From this I can only assume that the shortlisted books are read a total of six times by each judge before the winner is announced. That’s quite a reading accomplishment!
There aren’t many books in my life that I have read through six times, but I now try to keep this in mind when I read a Booker long or short listed book. How would this book hold up to several repeat readings?
And that’s where A Little Life falls down for me.
The story is compelling, gut-wrenching and an emotional tour de force. Like a train wreck it is hard to look away. But do I want to reread it?
Will I gain any extra insight or any different perspectives from another reading? Does this story contain layers that will only be revealed with more or deeper readings?
I’m not sure about that.
In her interview for the Man Booker website, Yanagihara said:
I wanted everything — the horror, the love, the distress, the compassion, the fortune, the misfortune — to feel heightened, to be pushed beyond what’s expected or even what’s wise; I wanted it to live at the far ends of the spectrums of human behaviour and emotions. It should feel like a binge, somewhat, an experience that demands your attention and surrender: the small and large moments that punctuate any human life distilled into a concentrate.
I’m glad I read this interview before I started the book as it allowed me to accept the extreme elements in the story for what they were – for what the author intended them to be. I also read somewhere (I can’t remember where) that she also thought of her story as being more of a fairy tale.
With that in mind, the sordid, brutal, relentless abuse that Jude experienced as a child is made a little more bearable and the redemptive powers of love and friendship made a little more acceptable.
Fairy tales often explore the idea of opposites and Yanagihara also uses that device in A Little Life.
Fragility and strength; determination and despair; vulnerability and vigilance; hopefulness and helplessness; love and hate; trust and wariness.
The real power in this story though – the binge factor – lies in Jude’s inner voice.
We all have times when we doubt ourselves, when that little voice in head tells us we’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not worthy or not lovable. But most of us eventually learn that this voice does not serve us well. That this voice is based on our fears and insecurities and other people’s opinions.
Eventually we learn to let it go as best we can.
And that’s what we wish so strongly for Jude.
We empathise, we sympathise, we know why his inner voice is saying what it does. We can also see his faulty thinking and his impaired logic.
We wish his inner voice quiet.
Yanagihara has written a powerful, moving, relentless tale about the best and worst of life.
Will that be enough to get it onto the Man Booker shortlist later on today?
For those who love the book and want more information from the source, check out Hanya’s Instagram page for the book @alittlelifebook.
She provides insights into the story making process, cover choices, her inspiration for Jude’s character etc. It’s fascinating.