Book Review – A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
July 3, 2015
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 publisher.
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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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.
In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.
This book has been getting rave reviews throughout the book blogging world. I knew it was a long one at 720 pages, but I had no idea what I was in for!
On the Plus Side:
- This is a book you will not forget. Yanagihara writes with such feeling, such emotion, such compassion. I’m still reeling from all of it.
- My favorite characters were Jude, Willem, and Harold, probably since they were the most well-developed characters. I would love to attend one of their Thanksgiving events some time.
- The story takes place over several decades, which is how so many horribly traumatic issues play out. The novel creates such a feeling of the life long struggle of living with some type of trauma.
- The characters do a huge amount of traveling over the course of their lives, and I liked reading about a host of different places across different continents.
- I enjoyed the variety in careers that the characters had, and how those careers further developed their personalities and the issues they dealt with on a daily basis.
- I loved the tight bond between the four men that originated during their college years. You see them grow, change, struggle, love, enjoy life, find success, all while remaining connected to one another. You see them make mistakes, and then try to rectify some of the horrible mistakes they’ve made.
- Yanagihara writes with tons of raw and real emotions, making it difficult to read at times. She does not sugar coat anything, and this is not a feel good book (though it does have some hugely heart-warming moments that you will love). Even though I may not have agreed with all of the plot choices, I can understand why Yanagihara moved the story in the different directions that she did.
On the Minus Side:
- The book is a little slow to get started, but stick with it. Once it picks up a bit, it flies by!
- There are a ton of characters, and more than once I lost track of who everyone was. I felt like Yanagihara could have streamlined just a bit in the character department.
- Yanagihara likes her pronouns, and sometimes it would take me another read to figure out which “he” she was referring to at any given time.
Even though this is an emotionally difficult read at times, I highly recommend A Little Life. It is a long read, so make sure you set aside plenty of time to get through this one. This is not a debut novel for Yanagihara, and I am curious to check out some of her other work and see how it compares to this one.
Have you read A Little Life or anything else by Hanya Yanagihara? What did you think?