Are you happy? He once asked Jude (they must have been drunk).
I don’t think happiness is for me, Jude had said at last
This is a brilliant and heart-breaking novel.
The main character is Jude St.Francis. We follow him, and his friends, from young adulthood to middle age with detours into flashbacks along the way.
Jude’s childhood and adolescence was the stuff of nightmares. Abandoned by his parents and then abused by those who should have cared for him. Along with his mental scars this abuse left him horribly injured and physically disabled for life. The focus is how he copes, or doesn’t cope, coming to terms with his past throughout his adult life. As an adult he is a successful man is many respects with an impressive career, a good income, friends who love him and acquaintances who admire him but he can never escape the horror of his past and carries his childhood trauma with him his whole life.
As you may have gathered this isn’t a happy novel! At times it is almost unbearably sad. Jude is such a pitiable and compelling character and you long for him to find peace. So it is not an easy read but nor is it a not stop tale of misery for the entire 720 pages! Yanagihara inserts lighter moments to keep it just the right side of bearable, there is hope and joy in the friendships Jude manages to make, friendships that endure from his college days. There is also a lot of content most of us can relate to. As well and the more dark and serious struggles Jude has with his physical and mental health and haunting memories of child abuse are the more mundane dilemmas around career choices, growing up, moving from young adulthood to full adulthood and the transitions this involves. Jude isn’t always the focus either, we also get to know his three closest friends who, while they have their own fair share of troubles, haven’t faced the living hell Jude went through as a young man. So it is also a novel about growing up and finding your way in life.
I would recommend it to everyone. It really moved me. It also made me reflect on my own life at times. Not many of us will go through what Jude did (thankfully!) but we all do have our own demons to face, our own painful memories to confront or forget, and our own life struggles. It was a very human book, the focus was an extreme example of human suffering but I think through that came reflections and messages about the types of pain we all experience: loss, disappointment, shame, weakness. No solutions offered I’m afraid, but the realisations that humans are bound by these common experiences and emotions was poignant.