While I am trying to find something to say about ‘A Little Life’ that is more eloquent than just ‘Wow’, here’s one I read earlier…
The author has done a pretty clever thing here. This is not a book that makes you want to give it a bad review – even if you thought it was bad, which I didn’t. The denouement delivers a (somewhat heavy-handed) message about the perils of bad reviews – for the reviewer, so presumably by the end anyone who was previously inclined to be scathing, would instead be running good and scared.
This happens to fit pretty well with my personal philosophy anyway, so I don’t really mind. I don’t really like bad reviews, having been raised in the mould of, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. (This obviously doesn’t apply in other areas of my life, when I can be pretty mean when I want to be. But this isn’t about that.)
Anyway, I enjoyed this book. It made me smile. There are moments that are painfully familiar to anyone growing up in the 90s, but more than that, the author captures the urgency and frustration of being a fifteen-year-old girl, probably better than any other modern author I’ve read. I’d almost forgotten what it was like, to feel as though you were going to explode with restlessness, to feel the constant frustrated energy of wanting to do something, without having the first clue what. And of course the obsession with the mysterious world of sex, although about halfway through the book seemed to veer off from hilarious realism into the land of teenage fantasies:
‘And when you are being kissed like this, you are Christmas Day; you are the Moon Shot; you are field larks. My shoes were suddenly worth a million pounds, and my breath was the ethyl in champagne. When someone kisses you like this, you are the point of everything.’
(This never happened to me when I was sixteen. Maybe I just had a disappointing adolescence.)
I liked the references to the parts of the early 90s that I can remember (the author is older than me, but by less than a generation, so it works). I liked that it made me laugh out loud, in public, in several places. I liked the way the author uses language like fireworks – great phosphorescent explosions of fizz. And I like the joy, the sheer joy of this young girl discovering the world. At a time when a lot of fiction – like people – feels the need to be ‘serious’, it’s an unbelievable relief to be able, just once in a while, to read something like this:
‘I don’t need to critique things, or have an opinion, or pose, with John – we just go around, being alive, and pointing at things. We’re just, simply, in the world. It had never occurred to me what a wonderful thing this was. Or perhaps it had, a long time ago – but I had forgotten. I am full of how great life is. I am so happy to be alive. That point of life is joy – to make it, to receive it. That the Earth is a treasure-box of people and places and song, and that every day you can plunge your arms in and find a new, ridiculous, perfect delight.’