Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Well this was it. This was what my life as a reader has been leading up to. I love sad books, and to read the (arguably) saddest book that has ever been written, I had the highest of hopes for this book. I even put off reading it for so long because I wasn't ready to read the best book I was ever going to read quite yet. Thank God I didn't wait forever as this is everything I have ever needed in a book and more.
A Little Life follows Willem, Malcom, JB and Jude, four friends who move to New York City with a dream of making it in their prospective fields. Over the decades, we see how their friendships change, whether they blossom or darken. A Little Life takes you on an emotional journey, as we closely follow Jude's childhood through the entirity of his life for a truly character driven, multidimensional masterpiece.
Don't be intimidated by this book's size, as you will love and live every moment of it. To me, there were no lulls, no moments where the story dragged. Yes, this book is over 700 pages. However, this is the most in depth character driven novel I have ever read. I feel like I know these people; I feel like I care very deeply for them! Only truly exceptional writing can do this. When we have covered so many years of their lives, and we follow so many life defining moments, at no point are you left feeling bored or restless.
Although we get a wonderful insight into all four of the men mentioned, truly this book is about Jude. Jude must be one of the most tortured characters ever written, but so loveable and kind hearted. He is perfectly written where he is the sweetest soul, but unbelievably frustrating so you will have to keep reading so you can keep routing for his happiness that you hope will transpire eventually.
I spent a lot of my time crying during this book. This was to be expected - this definitely was not unique to my experience during my five days spent consuming this unbelievable work. It would make sense for me to name all the trigger warnings (although I feel that any you can possibly think of will undoubtedly crop up). But unless you are genuinely concerned about reading this kind of book, please don't let it be the reason you never pick it up. Admittedly, the onslaught of descriptive scenes of self harm, certainly push to an out of bounds and absolutely non mainstream contemporary novel. The moments that I found the most upsetting were not when something awful would happen, but when a character was so self destructive and degrading that they thought they deserved it.
These upsetting chapters are constantly balanced with Jude's successes in his work, personal life and developments in his beautiful friendships. There are real moments of joy here too. The most moving parts of this novel come from tenderness and support that Jude receives, not from the ongoing suffering he endures. There are sparks of light here, despite the dark immersive universe you are subjected to by Yanagihara's writing.
I heard that some readers said this book was far too extreme. Some were even describing it as 'torture porn', where Yanagihara is merely writing disturbing and upsetting content for the sake of shocking her audience. But to me, this book is perfect. I will never forget this book, and it is now part of a very select few that I will think about almost every day in one way or another, and hope to reread many times throughout my lifetime.
The book is named 'A Little Life' because that is the truth! Every individual life can seem so small and insignificant. But that doesn't make it any less extraordinary.
Rating: 5 stars
Publication Date: 10 March 2015 (my edition: 10 March 2016)
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
# of Pages: 720