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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

entry arrow10:39 AM | How to Suffer

It has been a long time since I last finished a really long book. (I don't have the time or the patience anymore.) But I just finished one. All 778 pages of Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, recently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and recipient of so many great reviews. You know how it is when you're reading a beautiful book and you don't want to get to the ending because you don't want the story to end? This is not that book. I have never wished for something to end so very soon, and turning that last page was such a relief. And yet I cannot deny the book's beauty and elegance -- how perceptive it is, how deeply connected to what is human. It was a gripping, involving read. So many times, reading it, I had to put it down and say, "How does it know so much?" And not just about being human, and about love and friendship, which is the story's core: there are scintillating bits about mathematics, too, and the law, and architecture, and medicine, and the visual arts, and filmmaking, and cooking, and travel, and New York. It feels like a book where the author has given all of herself into its making, each word a corpuscle from her own bloodstream. It is that alive and arresting. It is also very sadistic, and very brutal. When I was swimming in the middle of it, I had thought: what a fascinating book this is -- equal parts brutality and tenderness. Later I thought the tenderness was there to make the overwhelming brutality transcend even its limits: this is a book where even the bruises have bruises. Sometimes, I paused to ponder things like a change for a proper title. "This book should be titled The Complete Guide to Cutting Yourself," I'd think. "Or How to Be Depressed But Be Surrounded By Good People You Don't Deserve. Or The Graphic Guide to Abuse and Molestation." You know how it is in creative writing we are taught to push the stakes higher for the characters? I'm not sure the author follows that simplistically: it's not the stakes she pushes harder for her main character, Jude: she gives him pain, and thinks of even greater pain to inflict him with -- and after that, still another round of excruciating pain, an endlessness of pain that after a while it becomes repetitive. Somewhere around the 600th page, I told myself, "If Jude says sorry one more time, I'm going to throw this book against the wall." I couldn't do that, of course: I was reading an e-book in my iPad. Was I looking for redemption? Perhaps I was. Even Job in the Bible got one. (Alas, Job has nothing on Jude, named after the saint of lost causes. This is not a spoiler.) A Little Life does not easily succumb to our expectations -- and perhaps that is the book's strength. Also this: that it could contain so much darkness, and yet we still end up believing, somehow, in the pinpricks of light it allows to let in. But how endlessly beautiful this book was, with prose I couldn't help highlighting again and again. It comes down to that in the final analysis. It is a worthy read: it won't be an easy read, but you couldn't put it down anyway.

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