A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara | | Book Review

February 25, 2017

Finally faced my fear of lengthy novels and began A Little Life, 720 pages of utter tragedy and heartbreak. This book is not for the squeamish because of its graphic descriptions of abuse, and definitely not recommended if you wish for your heart to remain in one piece. 

A Little Life is written by Hanya Yanagihara and tells the story of four men who have grown up together, since attending college together. The group consists of JB an artist, Malcolm an architect, Jude a lawyer and Willem an actor. We experience the story over 60 years, told in the present day with flashbacks to their childhoods and the events leading up to now. It is mostly set in America's New York with many mentions of travels to Europe. 
The plot is incredible and complex. It is about friendship, abuse and tragedy. The characters have experienced their entire adult lives together, through arguments, jealousy, successes, heartbreak and love. Yanagihara's creation of JB, Malcolm, Jude and Willem is amazing and deserves praise for the complexity, all of them being perfectly sculpted 3D characters who you can imagine yourself meeting. The stories and lives of these characters are so intricately woven together, there's not one detail missed out. They are very thorough and detailed, it's what kept me gripped through 700 pages...

As a tale of friendship, the only thing that really binds them together is Jude. Jude has a secretive past, his closest friends know very little about it but they know it's not the most pleasant. Yanagihara develop the narrative to focus closer on the friendship between Jude and Willem. To me, they seem the closest out of the four. Willem appears to be the greatest friend you could ever have, especially to Jude. His endless devotion to Jude is questioned by his own friends and family as a connection that is immature and is preventing them from experiencing adult life 'correctly'. (FYI, there is no rules or guidance to living life correctly.) Willem is kind and selfless, he travels the world on acting shoots but will be there for Jude in a heartbeat. Their friendship is real, powerful and honest. It is evident that Willem loves Jude more than anything else in the world. And now I think I do too. I found myself attached to the pair almost immediately, I rooted for them. 

Jude past is traumatic and it's slowly and painfully revealed to readers and his friends and family. His past is seemingly unknown to anybody other than his doctor Andy, and deceased carer Ana. His inability to discuss his past is frustrating to everyone involved, Yanagihara portrays it perfectly in the other character's anger and persistence. I found Jude extremely frustrating with his constant reluctance to accept advice and professional help, although I can completely understand why he is the way he is.

Revealed in graphic flashbacks, we discover Jude has been abused throughout his life, and it affects him greatly still, his past cripples his life. These parts are NOT easy to read, they are brutal and upsetting, and should be noted that it could be triggering for some readers as self-harm is a major topic through the story. It's laid out in front of you in this bizarre raw form unlike any other piece of fiction to exist, even Lolita left out the unforgivable parts. To get an idea of how horrific it is, at some points I had to close it and take a few deep breathes whilst squirming out of my seat. 

This book honestly made me feel everything ever possible, mostly sadness. I was aware of the emotions it could evoke but dear lord, I was not prepared. It's sad, just so so so sad. Especially THAT ending. All in all, after reading I felt emotionless, the book sucked the life out of me, and I had to give myself a week before I picked up a new book. 

I just want you all to read it because the friendships are beautiful, the support the four give each other even when they aren't particularly on good terms is beautiful. It can be funny too. Despite the story's trauma and sadness you will find yourself attached to one of the four. And don't think you won't. I found myself attached to Jude and Willem's friendship. I still can't stop thinking about them.

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