I’ve had so many books that have been dear to me – the sort of book that you read and read, for comfort, mainly; the sort of book that would unravel and skip if it was a tape, that would fray if it was a warm jumper. The Harry Potters, the first two Bridget Jones books, ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt were all small homes that could be entered at any time. They were comfortable, even though there were parts of them that weren’t comforting. None of them, though, were as uncomforting yet somehow homely as Hanya Yanagihara’s ‘A Little Life’ – a book which, tonight, is in with a strong chance of winning the Man Booker prize. This is my love letter to it.
Since finishing it two weeks ago, I’ve had it on my bedside every night; I’ve filled up with tears thinking about it in places as diverse as Sainsbury’s and a club and almost every room in my flat; I think about it when I listen to songs on the bus. It’s a big book, but even bigger are the tendrils it extends into all parts of your life. And for all of the literary merit the Man Booker panel have evidently recognised (precise, beautiful sentences; a structure that allows secrets to be revealed as carefully as in a thriller; settings that are as vivid and lush as a painting) there’s a lot of things that truly pack a punch because of the context. Rich, layered, complex gay characters; mental illness presented unflinchingly; a horrific focus on child abuse, the sort of focus that understandably leads to many people choosing not to read the book. Yanagihara not only creates a world – she represents one. For anyone who sees themself in her New York, the detail with which she writes her characters is something close to love. Almost honour.