Hi Reader, if you have been here a while then you remember my review come rant of A Little Life, which you can read here. When I read A Little Life, I did it with a group of people and one of my friends wrote a piece, at my request, on what she thought about the book.

Here is what Gathoni had to say:


Disclaimer: (This rant has a mix of Whatsapp conversations, Swahili lingo and a TV series reference. It has spoilers too. Content warning – self-harm, sexual assault, rape, body dysmorphia) 

Malcolm, Willem, Jude and Jean Baptiste (JB) are four friends starting college. This initial bond among them was familiar and I enjoyed the camaraderie they built eating bad food, attending frat parties, dealing with annoying parents and living on Lispenard Street.

I could already feel the unevenness in the group because of Jude’s guarded nature. The secrets that he was keeping felt petty to me at the time and I excused his friends rattling him to see what would fall out. Then there was Willem who would fiercely defend him without needing reasons to do so. The scene that is freshest in my mind is when he took Jude to get treated for the cuts he had made on his wrists. The magnitude of this event didn’t seem to register with Willem and didn’t compel him to make any drastic changes. But what was he supposed to do?

During these ‘hospital trips’ (they’re not quick ‘trips’ because Jude’s body is broken for real), we’re introduced to Andy. He is a mutual friend studying medicine who is saddled with the responsibility of taking care of Jude and his problems. The problems include his legs, back, self-inflicted wounds and body spasms that leave him incapacitated. Those passages on pain were difficult to read and the isolation in those moments hurt my heart.

My rage was stirred up by the cutting first. This is something Jude did repeatedly and he wouldn’t or couldn’t stop. I’m ashamed to say that I would’ve excused it but seeing the anguish that it brought to his family and friends made me resent his guts. That audacity is aptly captured in the phrase “huyo anakuanga hivo” (that’s just how he is) which is said with a shrug. It means he can’t be helped and everyone has stopped trying.

“I just worry about you; I sometimes think I care more about your being alive than you do,” says Willem and it further explains this.

The familiarity of everyday events felt easiest to read because of parents, workmates, friends and lovers. The four had other responsibilities apart from themselves. They were finishing college, looking for jobs and getting partners. Then, if all going to plan, buying houses to go and live life. These mundane milestones felt like a soft landing after being pummeled by this book.

My soft landing was the private pool that Jude was able to get. I liked that he had a vicious streak that helped him be a brilliant lawyer. I liked that he made a lot of money, owned beautiful homes and that he was loved. There was a moment where Willem ties his shoelace and Jude looks over to Harold and they both know that there’s love is in that gesture. 

I liked that he felt safe enough to misbehave and throw tantrums. And Harold hugging him and calling him sweetheart was really sentimental-ish. I liked that he didn’t forgive JB because he was fueled by pettiness. It felt like he was standing up for himself in a small way.

When he started dating Caleb, everything started unravelling. The cruelty that Caleb meted out on that poor man was rage-inducing. I wanted to sock Hanya in the face because what was the reason? I was particularly appalled by a scene where Caleb ridiculed his body then assaulted him and having watched a similar scene in Sharp Objects with Camille, I wondered why it was written callously like that. 

Jude’s ‘little life’ is marred by many events that have possibly scarred me for life. It shows misery repeatedly inflicted on a body and how its effects don’t go away. I’m convinced that under different circumstances I would understand this trauma but I was appalled and horrified by how his despondency came at me from the pages. 

It was too gruesome and too stark and I didn’t want to look at it or even confront it. It almost felt embarrassing that the author thwarted his every attempt to escape with an even bigger obstacle and I didn’t want to take part in it.

He found Willem and a few years of happiness but that didn’t last. 

The simplicity of the plot was also what made it complex. Jude doesn’t get better. That’s it. The scars are the least of his worries because his mental state is in shambles. He’s tormented by hyenas that symbolize repeated rape and sexual assault all his life. And, he doesn’t try to get better. I kept hoping that he would even when I didn’t know what getting past trauma like that looked like. I was hoping, rather foolishly, that a mysterious force or even at the very least, love, LOVE would help him rise from the ashes. Or, he would take it on the chin like the rest of us and when he didn’t, I was upset. 

Why did he have to be messy?

That was not his fault.

I wanted to throw things.

Jude was making do with the cards that life had dealt him and I’m thankful that the author didn’t let us off the hook. In the end, she did but the impact of that man’s life had such a devastating ripple effect on his immediate family, I’m surprised Harold didn’t off himself. 

I know much can be said about the length of the book (it’s 700 pages, but you already know that if you’ve read it) but to me, it felt like a great conclusion.

If you have read A Little Life, what did you think about it?