Spanning many decades, from 1981-2021, Christodora is a reflection of the AIDS epidemic in New York, those who were left behind and the aftershocks. Each character has links back to this, whether it be obvious or not.
The novel follows two characters particularly closely: Milly, a New York-born artist, and her adopted son, Mateo, and how their fraught relationship changes over time. The building, The Christodora, where they reside for most of the book, witnesses all, from when Mateo is first adopted to his own drug addiction, once fully grown. Almost like a character in itself, The Christodora has its own history.
You are simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable with the characters Murphy creates, each with their own flaws, you never feel too close to them. Murphy explores sex addiction, mental illness and drug addiction. You learn to understand and empathise with each story line, even if you cannot quite agree with some of the character’s actions.
I came to love and understand Hector, who also used to live in the imposing Christodora. Once at the forefront of the AIDS activism movement in New York, campaigning for the powers at play to stop shying away from the cruel reality of the epidemic. Who after losing many to the virus, is stricken with grief, turns to drugs and sex as a way to cope with the pain. You follow his story parallel to Mateo’s, with a tied history linking them together.
The novel is particularly poignant with the re-telling of AIDS activists’ stories, although fictionalised, you are aware these will ring true. Barely touching the surface to the thousands of people who lost their lives and each with their own history.
Christodora has been closely compared to A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, a devastating book that holds a special place in my heart, and possibly my favourite book of all time. What can I say - a glutton for punishment! I would hold this comparison true, if you’re into a book that lets you jump in and completely surround yourself in time and people, Christodora is definitely for you. Essentially, A Little Life but without the constant sucker punches, but just as beautiful.
This book was hard to read but an essential one. A plot driven novel that needs to be on your bookshelf!