A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara


This book, has been with me since I read it a few weeks ago. I’ve been reflecting a lot about my thoughts and feelings while reading it. Before I dive in here’s a little more about the book.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

This book felt like a modern day heartbreaking fairytale. Though the  characters exist in a place, New York City, they exist without time and context. There is no mention of real life events, like 9/11, that these characters would have experienced. The book relies on stock character types, but heightens them with emotional events and situations.

I was warned about this book, that it was going to make me cry. Which I brushed off cause  I like dark books. I like reading about struggle and loss and the human response to these things.  However this book is bleek. There is not a lot of redemption. I remember looking up about a halfway through the book and just thinking, “this book is the epitome of sadness for sadness’ sake”.

For me this became very challenging. Not because of the sadness, but, because I felt as a reader I was being manipulated. Of course I’m going to feel things if all I’m presented with is the darkest depths of human capability. The most unrelenting tragic events. Sorrow. Destruction. Brutality. It felt like I was being forced to be sad, because how can you not be after all that you’ve read? While reading and feeling (and crying), I could step outside myself and note that I my emotions were being taken advantage of.

The book gets away with this manipulation because it is so beautifully written. Yanagihara creates moments that are full of life and breath and are just beyond moving. To me, that is the greatness of this book. She narrates through different characters points of view which  works incredibly well.  A Little Life is certainly a book that will stay with me, and that is in no small part due to the world that Yanagihara created.

One thing worth noting, is that the revelation of the title of the book is fantastic. That’s all I’ll say.

I think this book is worth reading, if the 800+ pages don’t freak you out. If you’re uncomfortable or triggered by child, mental, physical, or sexual abuse this book may not be for you. It goes there, and it doesn’t let up.

  • Paperback: 814 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (January 26, 2016)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars
  • Buy A Little Life on Amazon

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