A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
I had been reluctant to read this much-hyped Booker longlisted novel, but after Rebecca’s review for Shiny New Books I was beginning to move off the fence, so that when Scott of Me & My Big Mouth announced a readalong, or as he calls it ‘social reading’ I was ready to join in.
The book has seven parts and the plan is to read one every two or three days. Today is report-back day on the first part ‘Lispenard Street‘ which is 83 pages long.
Most novels use the first chapters to introduce their characters, A Little Life is no difference in that respect. We meet the quartet of college roommates who have now graduated, moved to the Big Apple and are busy trying to make a life for themselves a few years on.
There’s JB the Haitian painter who’s waiting to be discovered; Willem, a Scandinavian from the Midwest, waits tables while waiting for his big break as an actor; Malcolm is coasting as a junior architect at a prestigious firm while still living at home with his (well-off) parents; and there’s Jude whom we’ll come back to later.
All the bases are covered too: racially – black, white, half and half, and an unknown mix; sexually – straight, gay, undecided; economically – rich and poor; personalities – Willem is kind and handsome, JB. is outgoing, Malcolm is inhibited, and Jude is the brilliant, tortured one.
This first section concentrates on Willem and Jude finding a bijou and run-down apartment to move into in Lispenard Street, it is being sub-let by a friend of JB’s. At the viewing Willem asks:
“Does the elevator work well here?” Willem asked abruptly, turning around.
“What?” Annika replied, startled. “Yes, it’s pretty reliable.” She pulled her faint lips into a narrow smile that JB realized, wit a stomach-twist of embarrassment for her, was meant to be flirtatious. Oh, Annika, he thought. “What exactly are you planning on bringing into my aunt’s apartment?”
“Our friend,” he answered, before Willem could. “He has troule climbing stairs and needs the elevator to work.” (p11)
This is the first intimation that Jude is in some way disabled – but whether from birth, accident of other injury we don’t know yet.
The novel goes on to give us some back stories on JB, Malcolm and Willem, saving Jude for later. We will find out a little about Jude’s present though – he’s a talented lawyer who’s good at maths. He also self-harms and is in constant pain. Jude looks bound to be the main protagonist of the novel, with his three protectors.
Well, based on these beginning chapters, I’ve fallen for Willem already and can’t wait (although I know it’s bound to be awful) to find out about Jude.
It’s still just summertime – and the reading is easy! I’m hooked, and it’s part two on Friday (I’ll only post again at the end, but will comment over at Me & My Big Mouth.)
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