“Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?” – A Little Life
I started Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life” just over a month ago and finished it within the last few days. I went into this book completely blind. I was aware that it had won many awards and was highly acclaimed, and I knew this must have been enough for me to add it to my Goodreads “To Read” list many months ago. I take my Goodreads “To Read” list incredibly seriously and as one book is cleared I move on to the next one on the list, often forgetting what it was that piqued my interest enough to add it in the first place.
And thus it was with A Little Life. I downloaded it onto my Kindle (so I did not even have the benefit of a blurb for guidance) and just started reading. When I had started it, Moz (of this parish) asked me what I was reading and, upon hearing my answer, took a sharp intake of breath and said “jesus, isn’t that supposed to be awfully grim?” Grim, I asked him? But this just seems to be a lovely coming-of-age story of four college student friends? What could be so grim? But then I read on. And then, the tears came.
The premise of the book is, on the surface, incredibly simple. We follow the lives of Jude, Willem, Malcolm and JB as they navigate college and life beyond it. Their friendship faces much upheaval, so much coming from the childhood trauma of Jude, their mysterious friend about whom they know so little. To say any more than this would do the reader a disservice as, I believe, the less you know the better.
I could imagine there are many reasons why someone could be put off reading this book – the length (another thing I was unaware of when I started – I really need to do more research before starting books!), the heavy subject matter, the cover (more on that later) – but I cannot stress enough how much I would recommend it to anyone. The writing is stunning, both simplistic and gut-wrenching. There are many areas where it would have been so easy for the book to go wrong: the unbelievable success of all of the characters (Jude is not just a lawyer, he’s one of the best in New York! Willem isn’t just an actor, he’s a superstar!), the enormous wealth they go on to enjoy, the upper class, hipster circles of which they are part, the almost overwhelming sadness that pervades the characters’ lives. However Yanagihara is such a skilled author and writes with such beauty that you just believe it and what’s more you want to believe it and get swept up in it and be left utterly broken but completely satisfied by the time you turn the last page.
The book is not without faults. While Yanagihara navigates the above issues deftly they cannot be completely ignored either. The character of Malcolm could have done with a bit more fleshing out as he becomes an increasingly more periphery figure as the novel progresses. And, while it may not have affected me when reading on the Kindle, I cannot stand the cover of the book. For me it does not accurately represent this novel and feeds into the “grim” perception that unfortunately does not do this novel justice – personal preference of course, but irritating nonetheless.
It is difficult to really delve into the many reasons I loved this book without giving away too much of the story which, as I mention above, would be an incredible shame. Suffice to say I loved every page of it. I laughed out loud (albeit infrequently) and wept uncontrollably (sadly, not-so-infrequently) and finished the book truly feeling I had finished something the like of which I had not read in a very long time and would not see again for perhaps longer. Truly a phenomenal book that I simply cannot recommend enough.
TL;DR – 5/5: An easy read despite its length that will make you feel emotions and cry many tears. An absolute must-read