book review

Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara


Title: A Little Life
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Publication Date: March 10th, 2015
Publisher: Doubleday

Rating:  5 stars

Synopsis: 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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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.



❝ 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 you, and to try to listen to them when they 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. 


Wow.

That is all I can say after finishing this novel. My mind is in a muddled state of awe and sorrow.

Though this novel does focus partially on each of these four friends, it mainly centers around Jude, the one whose past is quite unknown to those close to him as he prefers to keep the shame and the horror that plagues him in the dark. What made me most inclined to read this novel was due to the constant praise and glorification going around. After I had purchased A Little Life, it soon made the Man Booker Prize long list then shortlist, which made me even more eager to read this. I knew from numerous people that this book was emotionally draining and essentially overall depressing to read. Let me forewarn you that this is not a light novel. At times it can get very dark as Yanagihara displays the unravelment of the human psyche. This book contains dark topics such as self-harm, drug-abuse, sexual abuse, rape, and physical and physiological abuse.

You can’t help but feel irrevocably connected to these characters as the novel progresses and become tortured with the events that has happened to them, especially Jude. A Little Life mainly focuses on Jude St. Francis, the quiet and respectful guy who’s always kept a distance from his friends. We follow Jude from college to late adulthood as he tries to come to terms and live with the heavy abuse he received as a child. Jude is the kind of person you can’t help but fall in love with and feel for. How you are overcome with emotion at the horror of events that happened to someone so deserving of more. Of someone who now  forever has a self-deprecating mindset, who believes he is unworthy of the happiness in his life now due to what he learned as a child. It’s heartbreaking to see him afraid to give full trust to anyone because he once had his trust betrayed numerous times over the years.

This is honestly one of the most well written books I’ve read all year. I rarely say this, but the prose were just downright lyrical at times. I found myself annotating various sentences because I felt it truly captured that moment so well. Yanagihara’s writing is also so raw and honest you can’t help but become emotional. I loved the way the narrative flowed back and forth from the present to events of the past, flashbacks of childhood memories, and even foreshadowing of future events. This story is so intricate, I suggest you digest it slowly and capture the various links that eventually make itself clear.

❝ Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely? 

❝ Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.


I loved the friendships in this novel. The honesty, the insecurities, the jealousy all blended together. The friendship between Willem and Jude is so steadfast and all-consuming. I understand why the author decided to focus mainly on this particular friendship and how it develops and reshapes itself in years to come. Willem & Jude have one of those rare, all-consuming bonds that was written out beautifully. I loved fluidity between Willem, JB, Jude, and Malcolm and how they all looked out for each other, even when they weren’t speaking. I feel so connected to these characters, it feels like I know them. I can see parts of myself reflected in themselves.
This isn’t one of those novels that you just pick up and read, it’s one where you have to make time for, and read slowly to fully appreciate her craft. I will say that this was not an easy read for me. Many times I had to place this novel down because it can get overwhelming. There are parts where you laugh, parts where you cry (a large majority of the book) parts where you’re so livid you want to throw the book (trust me I wanted to at times) but is all essential to the development of this novel. A Little Life isn’t just a depressing book, there are beautiful bursts of moments where you feel unexplainable joy for these characters, whenever something works out for them. I love whenever a book can make me feel such strong emotion, but also is poignant and makes me want to better myself as a person.

This is one of those novels that still holds you long after you’ve turned the last page. I’ll forever carry the memories of these characters in my mind. This is most likely the best book I’ve read all year and I cannot recommend it enough. I understand why some people may not want to read this as it can be triggering, but if you’re interested please do give this book a try. There may be devastation and raw ugliness, but beauty in life and the friendships that are eternal, which is the best as well.

❝ Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.


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