When should you read this book? Immediately, but only if you’re going through a period of complete emotional stability.
I rue the day my colleague recommended this book to me. This lovely beautiful bastard of a book.
I can say right now that I’m going to give it five stars, but I haven’t forgiven this book and it’s likely I never will.
What’s it about?
A Little Life follows the story of a group of four friends as they go through life, from college through adulthood. One of the gang is Jude, a very gifted but unstable man with a very traumatic past. The story tells how the group deal with Jude’s problems and their own lives, coming together and falling apart.
The good bits
Firstly, a shout out to Hanya Yanagihara’s writing style. This is seemingly only her second published novel but her style is one of my favourites of all time. The way she writes is so assured and emotive without being flowery or condescending. In short, it’s the way I’d love to write. Secondly, these characters are totally believable and when I finished the book I got separation anxiety from them.
The bad bits
Prepare to cry. A Little Life is a fair old chunk of a book, which means you have a while to get to know the characters and, before you know it, care about them a little bit too much. I read one particularly traumatic scene on the tube on the way to work and become so overly emotional that I had a teary conversation with a colleague when I got in. One of the managers overheard and became worried I was telling a story from my own life and that he might have to involve HR.
Some thought pokers, to poke your thoughts
Thematically, A Little Life is all about love and relationships (of the platonic and the not-platonic kind). What love looks like, and what capacity we have to recognise it. What it means and how it translates into action in different situations. But Yanagihara is more interested in aiming really difficult questions at the reader’s conscience than she is in laying out a clear message.
Probably my favourite thing about this book – and what kept me thinking about it for a long time after I read it – is the philosophical question it poses about what makes life worth living.
The central character, Jude, tries throughout the book to overcome his past and live a fulfilling life, but to do that he has to figure out what that looks like for him and to what degree he can escape himself. Even as his friends surround him with love and kindness, is it a loving act to force Jude to go on suffering?
I became really attached to Jude and I was rooting for him from the beginning, something that doesn’t often happen with me. When I imagine him I feel like he’s a person I actually knew at some point, which is nothing short of magical to me.
There’s joy and misery in this beautiful, crushing book.
Overall I’d give A Little Life a strong nine. Break out the tissues.