I was nervous about this book. If you have read A Little Life by this author you know that she is both a spectacular writer and a heart breaking story teller. Trust me when I say though, this was worth the read.
I love when you start reading a book and you look up and the afternoon has turned to dusk without your realising. These time jumps happened to me whenever I picked this book up. Hanya has this incredible writing style that is both intensely descriptive at the same time as speeding you along the story line, you just hanging on, anxious to get to the next point.
This book has concepts, discussions and descriptions of child sexual abuse. Let us put that very clearly at the top. I knew that going in, and wasn’t sure I wanted it all in my brain. Also this part of the storyline is also disclosed right at the start of the novel so I am not ruining anything in the plot.
After having sat looking at the spine on my bookshelf for months, always wanting to pick it up just to have the pleasure of reading her work again, but never having the courage, I finally bit the bullet.
From the moment I started reading I knew Hanya had taken a very clever approach. Immediately we know our main character has been imprisoned for child sexual abuse charges. But the narrative is, in fact his biography. It takes you right back to his childhood and is told in his words, with his colleague and ultimate backer editing and footnoting his work.
This process allows Hanya to paint the most vivid and intricate reality, mimicking what I’m sure where explorative practices of the early to mid 1900s, and leaving you to forget that you are immersed in fiction.
As the plot progresses you see his character, unlikeable and distasteful to me entirely, try to justify and position himself as ultimately superior in the situation. But interestingly he also acknowledges how flat and devoid of character he truly is himself; he doesn’t really seem to like himself nor find his actions or appearances particularly fanciful or enviable.
I found I could not stop thinking about this book and as Hanya started to give tells and drip feed the reader the impression she was about to open the lid on the abuse, she skilfully just holds you anxious and waiting, engaged with the scenario and watching for the horror, rarely having it put before you.
It is true skill and artistry at work. You see the thorough destruction of tradition and community of a previously unknown people to white man, you see the ravaging of their earth and the distrust of humanity, truly a horror in its own right. The lack of ethics of the era, the lack of care, all bundles together and stacks against itself.
I didn’t necessarily put the book down sad or harassed though, contrary to all of this content. Quite the opposite, and that is her gift. My memories are most strongly of the forests and the creatures plants fruits and people within it, and those are what swim to the front of my mind when I consider this book.