Every year I look forward to the Tournament of Books for several reasons, but primarily because it forces me to read a book I’ve had on the pile for ages. As the ToB has come to an end this week, that book has been The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara, at first because of its bracket-busting abilities. Any book that could potentially be better than Life After Life and The Goldfinch seemed like a good choice. And: wow! Was it ever!
I like nothing more than being surprised by a book, and this book surprised me on multiple fronts. I finished it this morning, and was stunned into staring out the train window at the sunrise. As both judgments linked above make clear, Yanagihara is a spectacular writer. What’s impressive beyond her obvious ability, though, is her ability to write in the pompous voice of a horrible person while simultaneously skewering that person, all without her beautiful descriptions of a heartbreakingly fictional time and location feeling out of place. Further, though she builds up tension so subtly that I’m not sure I’d be able to expect it on a re-read, that tension strengthens to the point of near breath-holding in the final sections.
Life After Life came back in the Zombie Round and beat it, and I can see why—though this book is incredible, I think Life was a masterpiece. But it’s fitting, because this book reminds me, in spirit, of Atkinson’s debut novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It is similarly audacious, and has inspired a similar devotion: I will read anything Yanagihara writes moving forward, as I do for Atkinson.