Today feels like the right day to write about this book because I received a text message from my mother in law earlier who was in the car park of John Lewis and I quote, “crying her eyes out” (I’ve removed the expletive… no problem Elaine!) after listening to one of the chapters of the book on audible. Now, from what I gather, she’s only about a third of the way through and all I can tell you is if you’re crying then, at that point in the story, it’s not going to be the last time.
I think I saw this book in the window display in Waterstones last autumn and stuck it on my goodreads list because I saw it had been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. That was recommendation enough for me. Around Christmas time I got it out at the library, tentatively to be honest as a few reviews said it was really depressing. Now, December was a bit of a weird month for me for all number of reasons, it had high highs and low lows. Resting up in bed toward the end after feeling like a total write off (read:shit), I picked this up and was all of a sudden landed in New York to meet Jude & Willem & JB & Malcolm. I wasn’t up for depressing, but though it was a heavy read it wasn’t depressing. It was a book about love, really, ultimately what it is to love. I didn’t look back, I just got so caught up in it. Isn’t it the most wonderful and rare feeling to read something that does that to you, that sets off a kind of heartfire? So few times in my life I read a book whose entirely fictitious characters I have felt so connected to, so worried about. I was with these guys from the start, noting their idiosyncrasies and insecurities, the way they behaved, the ways they shared, what they were interested in, how their dynamic worked. I felt for all of them, but in particular Willem and Jude. Jude for his brilliance and fragility and Willem for being so incredibly kind, his lightness of being jumped off the page.
It is so beautifully written it made me ache, for example, on describing the light in JB’s studio: “At five thirty, the light was perfect: buttery and dense and fat somehow, swelling the room as it had the train into something expensive and hopeful.”
And my favourite quote entirely that sums up everything in life, said during a particularly heartbreaking scene: “Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases you realise that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
This story does have some upsetting and disturbing content within it’s pages. Sometimes I had to set it aside before I was able to return to it because it was so intense (a friend has since read it and done the very same thing) . But there are moments of expansiveness, of incredible love and kindness that balance the sadness.
I won’t give any spoilers here. I want you to read it and get swept up too. One of the funnest things was being able to read along with people on instagram, from Sydney to Kentucky messages were exchanged: ‘did you get to?’ ‘Oh my God, I couldn’t believe…’ and all of us in agreement that we would love to really know and hang out Willem & Jude & Malcolm & JB.
You can ‘follow’ the book on instagram @alittlelifebook where there’s a link to the art work of the boys names which you can get printed onto totes, mugs… whatever you like. I am, for sure, going to make myself up a t-shirt.
I finished the book in mid January. I don’t buy a lot of books any more, but this one made the shelf, it hasn’t left me, I will return to it again and again like an old friend. A real must-read.