Hello Bookworms, this book…this BOOK! Where do I begin? This book made me want to rip my heart out just so I wouldn’t be sad anymore. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is a heart-breaking masterpiece that was so difficult to read. I truly hope my review brings it to justice, as this novel is officially my favourite book. Yes, you heard that right, although it is ~incredily~ difficult to label simply one novel as a “favourite“, A Little Life makes it easy to give it that title. I read over 150 books a year, and I already know that no book could possibly come near it in-depth, writing and character development. Now I must warn you, this book will steal your heart, you won’t think about anything else every waking moment and you will, I repeat you WILL cry.
A Little Life = tears (simple math)
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, LGBT, Adult
Publisher: Published March 10th 2015 by Doubleday
Length: Hardcover, First Edition, 720 pages
Trigger Warning: Child Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Suicide, Rape, Violence, Drug Addiction, Self-Mutilation (for basically everything).
Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its readers.
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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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. (goodreads)
I felt a million emotions while reading this, I kept trying to tell myself this book wasn’t “realistic“, something this horrific wouldn’t ACTUALLY happen to someone in real life….right? And the worst part is, I was lying to myself. People do go through this. They go through this and so much more. A Little Life made me brutally come to terms with this, and let me tell you…. I cried SO HARD.
Here’s a peek into my goodreads review(that I wrote a day after reading the book) :
I do not even know where to begin. This book is so astounding that it doesn’t even belong in my favourite books list.. It deserves its own list. My life has been transformed now that I have read this book(okay that’s a little dramatic).
“…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.”― Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life
Something to mention is that this book is LONG. Now, I’ve read books that are much longer than 720 pages, but with the combined weight of the story, and the commitment the reader makes to the characters, A Little Life feels like it will never end. Not only that, but I am a pretty fast reader. An average length novel takes me about two to three hours to read. And A Little Life took me OVER two WEEKS to finish, and it was also the only book I read during that period. This decision I made to only read this novel and read it slowly was definitely the right one. A Little Life needs to be digested. No word can be skipped, every sentence has meaning and every chapter rips off a little piece of your heart.
Yanagihara’s novel is a marvel. It’s rich with gut-wrenching tragedies, enough to want you to RIP your own heart out(to those reading this review, having not read the book, BELIEVE ME, I am NOT exaggerating). As some of you may know, I posted a review about the masterpiece that is Lolita, and to be honest, if any book comes ~close~ to the level of detail in Nabokov’s writing, it’s Yanagihara’s.
Now, this review is more so centred on the characters(mainly Jude🥺) and just HOW INCREDIBLY AMAZING this novel is. The plot is basically Jude’s life story, and just how terrible of a life he has. I REALLY do not want to spoil anything, so JUST READ IT! (those who have read it, we can TALK AND SPOIL IT IN THE COMMENTS!!)
This novel centers mainly around Jude St. Francis but starts with three others as well. We have Jude, Willem Ragnarsson, Malcolm Irvine and Jean–Baptiste “JB” Marion. Jude, our baby, the boy who doesn’t know just how good he is, is disabled and a couple of other characters are POC.
This book begins with the friendship these four characters have, and how their lives develop following college. But don’t get confused, this book is about one person, and one person only. And that is Jude St. Francis. His story is supported by his friends, but this novel details how he has become the person he is today and explains the decisions he makes in the present.
Jude’s past is disclosed in segments to the reader, so there are quite a few “flashbacks“. It is a little confusing in terms of understanding what’s happening(whether it’s past or present) and which character is speaking at points. But as the story goes on, it becomes easier to follow.
I feel the need to say that some may believe that this story is overdramatic, and what happens to Jude is unrealistic. Believe me, when I tell you, I thought that dozens of times while reading, and then I realized the dark truth. This does happen. And not only do these things happen, but they happen A LOT. Because we grow to love Jude, his friends, his surroundings and learn about the wonderful life he lives, we wonder how he could have such a horrendous past? If I saw Jude on the street, I would NEVER in a million years guess that he had undergone such abuse. Yanagihara exposes what we have all been blind to. Unfortunately, this is reality.
Now, side note: every book has good and bad reviews(obviously) but some of the bad reviews I have read on Goodreads….. I am PERSONALLY OFFENDED. How RUDE! Yes, yes, express your opinion and all that, but do not call this treasure dull and melodramatic😤😖. Okay carry on reading, I just wanted to whine for a bit.
Now to talk a little about the themes, and messages this book conveys(because there are a whole LOT of them). A Little Life covers subjects ranging from friendships, to love, to toxic relationships and to the harsh realities of life itself.
One of the things I wanted to do with this book is create a character who never gets better. And, relatedly, to explore this idea that there is a level of trauma from which a person simply can’t recover. I do believe that really, we can sustain only a finite amount of suffering.This quote from the author herself just proves the anguish and torture Jude goes through. This novel is NOTHING if not brutal and unrelenting.
At the end of the novel, I was overwhelmed. That’s for sure. Anyone would be. But I was also grateful for the end. This book was a long journey, and through its horrific ups and downs, I learnt about myself, and the world around me. I think the book ended off in the best and worst way possible. As a reader, I knew there was no other possible outcome, but as someone who fell in love with the characters, I was devastated.
Overall, this book speaks for itself, as does my review. I KNOW for a fact that no other book will ever be able to top it in writing, and how much it emotionally scarred me. This book is one that I will be rereading for years to come, and will be talking EVERYONE’S ears off about. Although I know this book is so good, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. If you have read through this review, the triggers and STILL feel capable of handling it, then you in fact ARE ready. If not, be prepared, good luck and I hope you have a box of tissues nearby.
Dear Hanya, I love you and I hate you.
About the Author
Hanya Yanagihara is the author of the The People in the Trees, a book which she says she started writing when she was 21, and which took her nearly 20 years to complete. A Little Life was published in March 2015, receiving predominantly favorable reviews.
She started her career in New York working in the publicity department of Vintage Books, working for a number of New York publishers. From 1998-2008, she edited The Asian Pacific American Journal, before joining Conde Nast Traveler in 2005. Her “Word of Mouth” section was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2007. She became an editor at Conde Nast before leaving in 2015 to become a deputy editor at T: The New York Times Style Magazine.