**This piece contains spoilers**
I recently started reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara because I didn’t think it was a traumatising book where awful things happen to small children *pause for laughter*.
I had initially assumed that, it being a very long book written by someone with a complicated-sounding name, that it would be about a rough childhood in a rough part of the world and, you know, I’ve had quite enough of reading miserable books where someone has an awful time.
But then I read a vague summary of the Little Life plot and said to myself: “I am wrong! I am borderline racist! This is not a traumatising book where awful things happen to small children! This is a perfectly urbane book about four young dudes in New York. And everyone says it’s brilliant.”
Then – jokes on me! – it turned out to be the most traumatising of all traumatising books ever written. It’s not a book about child abuse. It’s the book about child abuse.
Why did I keep reading? I honestly don’t know. I think I kept expecting it to turn into the urbane and witty comedy of manners I had been expecting. Like when I went to Gary Barlow’s book party by mistake and persisted in thinking that it was Derren Brown’s book party (which was next door) even after Gary Barlow came up to me and went “‘Iya are you from the Times?” I was just standing there going “Wow I didn’t realised Gary Barlow and Derren Brown were such good friends!”
I abandoned A Little Life at about 89% when the hero’s best friend/boyfriend/guardian angel is squashed by a lorry in the most hugely unlikely and annoying accident since thingy got run over in One Day. I mean FUCKS SAKE the car accident is just the most stupid, stupid and lazy trope in novel-writing.
“Ugh,” I said to no-one in particular, “I’m not reading this anymore. I don’t like it.”
I just… I mean… why has this woman written a book like this? It’s so fucked and weird. She’s a great writer but why, why, why has she chosen this subject? And you know, it’s not even a subject actually, because the awful shit that happens is not exactly a thing happening to children all over the world.
Yes there is child abuse, yes there is enforced child prostitution, yes there are paedophiles, yes there are people living in constant pain. Yes people cut themselves. Yes loved ones get squashed by lorries. Yes there are evil monks and sadistic architects. Yes to all of that. But why all at the same time, all in one story? Why make it all happen to one person?
And also why all the nauseating, sentimental puke later one? Why does Jude, our hero, only encounter people who are either complete evil monsters who want to buttrape him or saints who slobber over him like fawning shop assistants? It’s so clumsy and irritating. And, you know? A bit fucking psychotic, like how most tyrants and despots always also have a strong sentimental streak and weep over sick puppies, while also being happy to wipe out entire tribes/races.
Look, don’t listen to me. Most people love this book and think it’s a masterpiece. I’m not saying it’s not a masterpiece, I’m just saying that I DON’T WANT TO FUCKING READ ABOUT BUTTRAPE AND CHILD ABUSE. Yanagihara has said that she doesn’t think that readers want to be a”babied”. Me, mate – me: I want to be babied. Thank you.
Anyway I removed A Little Life from my Kindle – I was that fed up with it, didn’t give a fuck what happened next, bored with reading about shit thing after shit thing that happens to this poor bastard – and took to Twitter to find something else to read.
Because the main reason I had been persisting with this book was because to have a book on the go is life-changing. I spend a lot of time with my kids when they need minding but don’t need actual interaction – I am living the dream, ladies – and even I reach the limits of what I can do on my phone in these hours. It’s so much better to be reading a book.
Rather than posing Twitter the question: “I need a new book to read”, to which you mostly get suggestions to read A Little Life, I asked for a mild-mannered book, style-heavy, not a comedy (there are enough jokes in my house without needing to seek out more in a book), and no child abuse if possible.
Twitter went nuts – I got tens of recommendations. So I have started on the Cazalet series by Elizabeth Jane Howard, which I’ve never even heard of I’m such a philistine and so far I am enjoying it enormously. I just hope that the Second World War doesn’t come along and ruin all the fun. But don’t worry, I’ve learned my lesson: one whiff of a sad baby and I’m out of there.