I overheard two young women in a bookshop looking at this, and one saying to the other that she couldn’t read it again because it was just ‘too intense’. Well, I’ve read it now and I can only agree. In fact, my feelings about it are best summed up by the following passage on the penultimate page
‘It took us several days to read, because although it was brief, it was also endless, and we had to keep putting the pages down and walking away from them, and then bracing each other – Ready? – and sitting down and reading some more.’
That’s referring to the text of a letter, but it could just as easily – with the exception of the word brief – apply to the book. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because much of its power comes from the way in which information about the main character is delivered.
You read it, and you’re horrified. And then you’re horrified some more. And when you think you can’t be horrified again, you are. Hanya Yanagihara puts you so vividly inside her main character’s head that you can’t stop turning the pages, even though you really want to. I made a deliberate decision to read the last 400 pages in two days: A) to find out what happens and B) to escape the pain.
This probably doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation. It might even read as a criticism. It’s not meant to be. This is a stupendously well-written book – all 800 pages of it. But those women in the bookshop were right.
It really is intense.