Review: A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara

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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.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

Title: A Little Life
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Publisher: Picador
Pub Date: 13th August 2015
Pages: 720
ISBN: 9781447294825

Rating: 5stars

“All the most terrifying ifs involve people. All the good ones do as well.” 

I am heartbroken.

This book has broken my heart. I do not have book hangover, or even book depression – my heart physically hurts from what this story has done to me.

A Little Life is not a book to be embarked upon lightly. This read will change you irrevocably, for better or for worse. This isn’t a quick, easy read. It is a marathon – emotions and feelings being ripped from you as you work your way through a person’s struggle for life.

This book is a sharp reminder of the realities of life. I have rallied. I have raged. I have despaired. I have been brought kicking and screaming to the end and, for all my troubles, I have been unable to affect any change. Hiding the book away or praying has not been able to change the ending.

“…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.”

Yes, this book is uncomfortable and, at times, physically painful to read, but it is worthwhile. There are numerous themes that have stuck and, I think, will remain with me for years to come.

Firstly, A Little Life, for me, brings to light the loneliness of mental illness. It is something that must ultimately be fought alone. No matter how many people you have surrounding and supporting you, our internal battles are our own. Each little step forwards (or backwards) has to be started by you.

I realise that, for some, it can seem depressing but, for me, it’s empowering. As a friend, it helps me accept that there’s only so much I can do. That, ultimately, I must give my friend the space and respect to fight their own battles. And as someone who has faced, and will likely face struggles in the future, I know that the power to pick myself back up lies within me.

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

Secondly, it is the strength and hope of friendship that I find utterly compelling in this book. That anyone, no matter what they’ve experienced can, just by being themselves, find another person in the world to bear witness to their lives.

The kindness and friendship Jude receives, not only from his closest friends, but from all those around him is astounding. You can’t help but spend most of the book praying that, just for once, our protagonist could see himself from his friend’s eyes. Though ultimately, the fight is his, to see Jude’s friends fight just as hard alongside him, not matter how long it takes is equal parts hopeful and heart-breaking.

“Friendship, companionship: it so often defied logic, so often eluded the deserving, so often settled itself on the odd, the bad, the peculiar, the damaged.” 

The strength in this book is Yanagihara’s incredible ability to build realistic characters. It is as if you’re reading about a group of friends you knew at university, rather than made up people in a book. And, because of that, each person’s struggle becomes all the more painful to read.

A Little Life is a book I will likely not read again, simply because I think it is not one I am ever likely to forget. Five stars seems too low a rating for this book, but it is all I can give.

Highly recommended, but with the warning that it will be difficult to read and will probably traumatise you for a while afterwards.

Alternatively, you can find a friend who’s already read the book and is willing to put up with your messages at any time of night. Thank you, friend, for keeping me (relatively) sane during this traumatic experience! x

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