“The axiom of equality states that x always equals x: it assumes that if you have a conceptual thing named x, that it must always be equivalent to itself, that it has a uniqueness about it, that it is in possession of something so irreducible that we must assume it is absolutely, unchangeably equivalent to itself for all time, that its very elementalness can never be altered. But it is impossible to prove. Always, absolutes, nevers: these are the words, as much as numbers, that make up the world of mathematics…he had always appreciated how elusive it was, how the beauty of the equation itself would always be frustrated by the attempts to prove it. It was the kind of axiom that could drive you mad, that could consume you, that could easily become an entire life.”
– Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
This is the first book I’ve finished in 2018 and its 800 pages completely enraptured me in its sticky, disquieting embrace. The story is both gruesome and hauntingly lovely (as I was warned by the many who recommended it to me). There are stylistic flaws, I think, by consequence of too many words crammed together, but her prose is undeniably evocative and urgent. You know that feeling when you want to string so many ideas and sentences together because you have so much to say that you sometimes feel yourself gasping for breath?–like that.
The narrative struck a lot of chords with me: themes of decades-long friendship, the serendipity, international exploration, childhood trauma and abuse, the uplifting power of grit and most importantly, love that comes into your life at the right time and maybe exits just as auspiciously. Yanagihara’s novel examines the meandering pains of life, death, and the afterlife sympathetically, with a hopeful acknowledgement of how those who remain on the mortal plane must find a way to go on. In that way, it is hopeful, despite the seemingly endless drudgery of the majority of the book’s contents.
“Or maybe he is closer still: maybe he is that gray cat that has begun to sit outside our neighbor’s house, purring when I reach out my hand to it; maybe he is that new puppy I see tugging at the end of my other neighbor’s leash; maybe he is that toddler I saw running through the square a few months ago, shrieking with joy, his parents huffing after him; maybe he is that flower that suddenly bloomed on the rhododendron bush I thought had died long ago; maybe he is that cloud, that wave, that rain, that mist. It isn’t only that he died, or how he died; it is what he died believing. And so I try to be kind to everything I see, and in everything I see, I see him.”
I furthermore resolve to be a more liberal user of the colon and semicolon; so thank you also for that, Hanya.
xo your friend alice
Location: Tokyo, Japan