Review | A Little Life | Hanya Yanagihara
Publication Date: March 10th, 2015
Page Count: 736
First Sentence: "The eleventh apartment had only one closet, but it did have a sliding glass door that opened onto a small balcony, from which he could see a man sitting across the way, outdoors in only a T-shirt and shorts even though it was only October, smoking."
Book Description: 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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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.
My thoughts: Wow.
This is a book for which I created this blog. It's a book that moves me so much that it almost feels disrespectful to just close the cover and move on to the next thing without first taking time to reflect back on what an epic story I just read. I know I'm prone to hyperbole, but this is one of those books when it speaks to you, it really speaks to you and it got to me. I read it a couple of weeks ago and am still in the midst of my book hangover.
A Little Life is not a happy novel. There were sections that gave me great joy to read (and there is even a section titled, The Happy Years), but overall this book was more heartbreaking and thought provoking than a story I can remember reading in a very long time. It's the kind of book that made me look at my partner a little differently and hold him a little closer. It made me thankful to be alive and more reflective on what I do have in my life.
As you can imagine, this is a polarizing book. Some have called it misery/trauma porn. I wouldn't stand by that assessment. Yes, there are certain parts that are miserable and traumatic and hard to read. But I think those that call it trauma porn feel that the author was objectifying and unnecessarily exploiting Jude's experiences. I disagree, and thought that Jude character development was excellent. We needed to know these horrors about Jude or the rest of the story wouldn't have made sense. I appreciate that things weren't glossed over and that they were revealed slowly. I think those experiences were central to Jude as a character, and without it his extremes would have been far less palatable.
The writing is outstanding. It's understated and delicate and takes you on a slow, rolling ride. You'll run into chapters and realize that the narrator has changed, but you don't really care. People say the writing is bloated, and there are stories out there that Hanya fought with her editor over trimming it down, saying that all of the parts the editor wanted to cut were crucial to the overall story. I can appreciate that. She stood for her art and while there are probably fewer people that will pick up the 700+ page mammoth, the people that do will get enough out of it to tell a friend.
Favorite Quote: He experienced the singular pleasure of watching people he loved fall in love with other people he loved.
Rating: 5/5 I would recommend this book for anyone who isn't triggered by self harm and appreciates solid writing, a full and complete story, and strong character development.
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