Book review: ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara [2015]

Goodreads summary: When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realise, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

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After a few weeks of blogging, I’m starting to get more of a grip of what it is that I like to read: without a doubt my favourite genre is contemporary fiction. And this week’s book is the epitome of everything that I love. ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara is a harrowing exploration of friendship, love and trauma, beautifully written and in no way light-hearted. My main feeling upon beginning this novel was confusion; figuring out the characters took a little while, but I knew immediately that I would enjoy it. The group dynamic, whilst not obvious, is intriguing from the start and as I was slowly drawn into the narrative I happily followed the author’s focus as she started to delve further into Jude’s mind. As the plot slowly unravels the reader is afforded the same discombobulating experience as Jude’s friends – You desperately want to know more, but when you do you wish you didn’t. It’s like clawing away at your own skin, completely fascinated and unable to stop despite the pain.

The characterisation in ‘A Little Life’ is subtle, but incredibly effective. Whilst we know next to nothing about Jude, his helpless, self-deprecating mind-set is executed perfectly. JB’s descent into narcissism and drug abuse is pushed aside a little bit in the plot, but what little we do see of his perspective successfully consolidated my conflicted feelings about the character as a whole. Willem, by contrast, represents an idealistic and humble rise to fame, a kindness that we cannot help but love. I was rooting for Willem and his eventual match the whole way through. Our supporting characters, such as Andy and Harold, are well-rounded and likeable, despite carrying their own struggles.

About three-quarters of the way through I started to suspect that ‘A Little Life’ would not be supplying me with the happy ending that I was hoping for. Without giving any spoilers, what did happen was completely unexpected and, frankly, brutal. But retrospectively I have to admit that I don’t know how it could have ended any other way. It was bittersweet, raw and emotional – I was in tears for a large portion of the second half. This novel is long, I can’t deny that 720 pages is a time-consuming read, but it is completely worth it. If you like contemporary fiction then this novel is a must-read. If you don’t, then you probably won’t like it.

The one negative that I found in the reading of this book, was that the switch of perspectives that occur somewhat randomly throughout the narrative took me a little while to figure out. Whilst I acknowledge that this was likely intentional, the occasional interception from a different narrator (Harold) and the ‘you’ he is addressing were initially confusing. Once you get your head around it though, it’s fine!

To conclude, I have to say that ‘A Little Life’ is an essential read for anyone who loves contemporary fiction. If I had to compare it, I would liken the novel to Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ in its depiction of honest trauma, addiction and underworlds. If nothing else you’ll finish the novel thanking God for what you’ve got and wishing you had a group of friends like these.

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A Little Life: Complete!

Review: Rarity from the Hollow by Robert Eggleton [2012]

Greetings bloggers! First up I apologise for my lack of activity – this past month has been absolutely MENTAL. I turned 21 on Sunday and graduated from Lancaster University on Tuesday, an incredible day, and the few weeks before that were taken up with loads of drinking and chilling with my amazing best friends. I’m so, so upset to be back in the South and away from all of them – but I should now have a bit more time to blog! This, and my job search are my main two priorities. So to set things off once again, I have a review of a novel that was sent to me by the author for review: Rarity From the Hollow by Robert Eggleton.

Robert sent me a pdf. copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Goodreads summary: Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out, and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in The Hollow isn’t great. But Lacy has one advantage — she’s been befriended by a semi-organic, semi-robot who works with her to cure her parents. He wants something in exchange, though. It’s up to her to save the Universe.

Will Lacy Dawn’s predisposition, education, and magic be enough for her to save the Universe, Earth, and, most importantly, protect her own family?

Rarity from the Hollow is adult literary science fiction filled with tragedy, comedy and satire. It is a children’s story for adults, not for the prudish, faint of heart, or easily offended.

Going against the grain of my usual reviews, I’m going to start with the negatives on this one. My reasoning for this is that the parts of the book I think let it down are not the usual sections one would expect. Generally I find that novels can fail when they have a fantastic start and fantastic ending, with nothing going for it in the middle, but with Rarity From the Hollow I found the opposite. I thought the start was slow and most of its content were a matter of necessity rather than enjoyment, and the pace of the novel does not pick up until the family’s first visit to DotCom’s home planet, ShpTilUDrp. Here the world building and the points of interest pick up massively, and I started to get properly sucked into the story – I’ll touch on that again later. Sadly however I did not feel the ending lived up to this. The majority of the novel is focused on ‘diagnosis’ of the Universe’s illness (essentially a whole load of stabs in the dark and strangely lucky guesses), and the solution at the ending then seems blindingly obvious and rushed. I wasn’t even sure of the relevance of the problem for Lacy Dawn and her planet. These failings, alongside the heavy sections of info-dumping, make some points of the novel very difficult to press on with.

However as I mentioned, although I struggled with much of the information heavy description I found the shopping elements of the novel to be very interesting as a commentary on modern capitalist society. These parts of the novel were the most fun and showed the strongest sense of world-building. The fantastical elements drew on the escapist fantasies of a child suffering from abuse, and the psychological undercurrents were so harrowing and what I would see as accurate. Lacy Dawn’s obsession with DotCom and showing him her panties, and her sense of guilt and responsibility for fixing her parents reminds the reader of our protagonist’s naivety: the idealistic overnight ‘fix’ of her parents is a dead giveaway here. Aside from Lacy Dawn, I thought most of the characters were well constructed, though obviously completely unlikable. Jenny in particular I think I should have felt sorry for, but she was the most irritating part of the novel.

Now to refer to a specific part of the novel – In his email containing the pdf format of the book, the author asked me to comment upon an early comment in the novel in which a child confesses to having seen their parents having sex. The concern was that this inclusion was too soon to introduce to the reader, however in my view this comment did not stick out at all. The whole novel is fraught with these brutal, frank references to abuse – One may as well start from the beginning so that the reader is completely aware of what they are getting themselves into!

To conclude, it took a little while but I did eventually get sucked into this book. I wouldn’t exactly class it as enjoyable but if you can overlook the shortcomings it is definitely worth a read. All proceeds are given to organisations that directly deal with impoverished or abused children in crisis, so I would urge everyone to look the novel up on Amazon. We need books like this, but I’m not sure who really wants to read them.

What do you guys think? Have you read anything like this before?

Book haul and TBR – 2nd July 2016!

 

In the absence of me having actually completed a book this week (life got in the way) I thought I’d do a little spread of my recent book buys and TBR list! Some of these books are new and some of them are older ones that I haven’t got around to reading just yet, but they’re all moving up my list.

Lincoln Townley – The Hunger

Blurb: Hidden from the London tourists lies a demi-monde of decadence where a man can party to excess for as long as his wallet allows. Lincoln Townley was in charge of sales and marketing for a famous men’s club in Soho, connecting wealthy punters with hopeful girls. He held private sex parties for city bankers and worked his way through an endless supply of beautiful young women, breaking beds and smashing toilets along the way. But even that was not enough to satisfy The Hunger. Lincoln wanted more coke and more women. And he devoured them.

Driven to drink more, snort more, fight more and f*ck more, Lincoln pushed his body to the point of collapse and then he pushed it further. When you’re possessed by The Hunger, is there ever a way out?the hunger

This isn’t the type of book I’d normally pick up, but I have always found something about addiction and depravity strangely fascinating to read. After seeing a few mentions of it out there on the internet I found it for cheap on an amazon bookseller’s site. I’m hoping this true account will provide a raw exploration of the battle with addiction as well as a bit of entertainment; a rare glimpse in
to an exciting and dangerous underworld. This book will definitely be getting a review on this site so keep an eye out!

 

Mikhail Bulgakov – The Fatal Eggs

Blurb: Professor Persikov, an eccentric zoologist, stumbles upon a new light ray that accelerates growth and reproduction rates in living organisms. In the wake of a plague that has decimated the country’s poultry stocks, Persikov’s discovery is exploited as a means to correct the problem. As foreign agents, the state and the Soviet media all seize upon the red ray, matters get out of hand…

Set in 1928 but written four years earlier, during Stalin’s rise to power, The Fatal Eggs is both an early piece of science fiction reminiscent of H.G. Wells and a biting, brilliant satire on the consequences of the abuse of power and knowledge.

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Again, this isn’t my usual type of book – in fact, science fiction in general is not my go to genre. However I picked up this book as part of a three for one deal and am really quite excited to see how it goes. The author, Mikhail Bulgakov, was a doctor who wrote several science-fiction books – some of which were not published in his lifetime due to Soviet censorship. I really enjoy novels that combine futuristic developments with history, and as this novel isn’t particularly long I should be able to get through it at some point when I have a minute spare or a train journey to fill!

 

Marge Piercy – Woman On the Edge Of Time

Blurb: Marge Piercy’s bestselling novel is both a gripping drama of survival and a Utopian epic. The story of Connie Ramos – 37, Mexican-American, labelled inadequate, unfairly incarcerated in a mental hospital – becomes the turning point for a book about war, a vision of an idyllic future and a moving narrative of essential human dignity. Emotionally compelling, politically searing, this is a landmark novel by a writer of dazzling abilities.

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Having just said that I don’t go for sci-fi, I’ve included a second one! This novel was on the reading list for one of my University modules on feminist literature, however as I was unable to attend that particular seminar, I never bothered to read more than the first two chapters. What I did read, I really enjoyed, so now that I have finished University and have a bit more time on my hands I’m planning to go back to give this another shot. The protagonist is committed to a mental hospital against her will and essentially begins to travel through time, visiting a Utopian future where gender, law and other societal structures and constructs do not exist. From what I’ve seen so far it seems that this novel was ahead of its time and a cutting-edge piece of fiction and societal commentary.

 

John Connolly – The Book of Lost Things

Blurb: High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the loss of his mother. He is angry and he is alone, with only the books on his shelf for company.

But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness, and as he takes refuge in the myths and fairytales so beloved of his dead mother he finds that the real world and the fantasy world have begun to meld. The Crooked Man has come, with his mocking smile and his enigmatic words: ‘Welcome, your majesty. All hail the new king.’

And as war rages across Europe, David is violently propelled that is both a construct of his imagination yet frighteningly real, a strange reflection of his own world composed of myths and stories, populated by wolves and worse-than-wolves, and ruled over by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book…

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I’ll be honest about this one – I was seduced by the cover. But this novel is now the one that I am most excited for on this list. It is exactly the kind of thing I like to read and write; a fantastical, creepy bildungsroman combining myth with reality. If this read goes well I will definitely be looking into more of the author’s work and I have a feeling it will earn itself a permanent spot on my bookshelf.

 

Nalini Singh – Branded by Fire

Blurb:  Though DarkRiver sentinel Mercy is feeling the pressure to mate, she savagely resists when Riley Kincaid, a lieutenant from the SnowDancer pack, tries to possess her. The problem is not simply that he pushes her buttons; the problem is that he’s a wolf, she’s a cat, and they’re both used to being on top.

But when a brilliant changeling researcher is kidnapped from DarkRiver territory, Mercy and Riley must work together to track the young man – before his shadowy captors decide he’s no longer useful. Along the way, the two dominants may find that submitting to one another uncovers not just a deadly conspiracy, but a passion so raw that it could leave them both branded by fire…

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Back in safer territory, the back of this novel provides a little guarantee that it will be gothic, romantic, action packed, funny and sexy. I’m not blown away with excitement, but I’m sure this will provide an easy read and a happy change to the usual vampire route of fantasy.  Let’s be honest, we all know how it’s going to end, but I’m sure it will be an enjoyable book nonetheless. I’m not expecting it to break any boundaries or give me any major shocks but after some of the other titles on this list a little gothic romance might be very welcome.

 

What do you guys think? Have you read any of these titles, or would you like to? Happy Saturday!