A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
First and foremost, A Little Life just might be one of the best written stories and character portrayals that I have ever read. I had just finished a fantasy dystopian novel previously and was looking to read something more “real” and maybe even a little more heavy. Well…this book more than meets both of those requirements.
A Little Life follows the life of four friends; JB, Malcolm, Willem, and Jude… as they first meet each other in college and then move to start their adult lives in New York city. They each have to find their own way in life all while dealing with their own pasts and challenges. Even though this book does cover each of the characters in some detail, the story mostly revolves around Jude who is something of a mystery to his friends. Along the way, the reader gets little glimpses of Jude’s secrets and demons, ones he keeps very hidden from those close to him, that are all a result of a very traumatic childhood.
This book is long (over 700 pages) but it well worth the time it takes to read this. It took just under a week for me and I found myself being torn between not wanting to put the book down and needing to stop and take a break from some of the heavy content. I feel the need to put out a warning – If you have emotional triggers to heavy and disturbing topics such as; child abuse, assault, drug addiction, etc…this might not be a great choice for you. As I said….it’s dark and very hard to read at times, but so worth it! I promise, the disturbing parts have a very real, essential purpose to the story and in no way feel gratuitous.
Some other reviews have described this book as a very in depth character study and I won’t disagree with that. The in depth look at each of the characters perspectives and lives just sucks you in… it is so engaging and, at times, consuming. This is one of those books where I really felt like these were real people that I was watching live their lives as opposed to just characters in a story. Even when I wasn’t reading, I found myself thinking about JB, Malcolm, Willem, and Jude.
A Little Life is about so many things, I can’t just narrow it down to one. It’s about trauma and how that trauma effects the deep core of a person and those around him. It’s about the ability of the human spirit to survive, cope and continue in the face of desperation. It is also about friendship & love and how that love can last a lifetime all while changing, yet remaining much the same. It’s about the power of love, family, and friends in our darkest times.
“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are -not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving -and then to appreciate them for what they can teach us, and to try to listen to them when they try to tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad – or good -it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best as well.”
There was also a very interesting part about relationships and what we can expect to get from them that I thought was very thought provoking. There is a conversation in the book about how we should only expect, if we are lucky, to get three main things from any relationship; chemistry, good conversation, loyalty, financial support, intellectual compatibility, etc. If we are lucky and in a great relationship, we can still only expect fulfillment of three of those things (at the most) from our relationships…the rest will have to be found and fulfilled elsewhere.
I have major book hangover after finishing this one. I was sad to have it end because I wanted more…which is funny because I was initially hesitant to start this due to the length. But at the same time, there was a feeling of peace and finality once I finished it. So, as long as you think you can handle some of the subject matter…it’s a definite recommend from me.
My Rating: 5/5 Stars.