A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life. Probably the one book I hadn’t heard a negative review of before I started reading it. I was warned at least that this book would break me, and break me it did. This novel by Hanya Yanagihara follows the lives of four friends starting out in college and following them throughout their lives. Relationships, careers, life and death. We seem them through it all and slowly learn more and more about each of them. The book mostly centres on Jude, most mysterious of them all. His previous life is a mystery that is slowly, heartbreakingly revealed piece by piece.


This is not a book to go into lightly. If you are at all bothered by or sensitive to themes of abuse, both sexual and domestic, or self-harm then I would consider whether this book is of you. The content can be highly disturbing and I found myself having to put it down at times, just for a moment to catch myself. Physically it is also a challenge coming in at over seven hundred pages. That being said I read this book in about five days. For all the earnings I just gave I still highly recommend reading this book. Particularly if you have someone in your life that has suffered from trauma in their past or work in a field that regularly deals with this. The book touches on there serious issues but often form the perspective of the person who has/is suffering. I think it gives some important insights into how the minds of those that have been subject to abject trauma. It certainly had me considering my original opinions with a more critical and open-minded way.


The real beauty of this book is in the characters. In particular the core four: Jude, Willem, Malcom and JB. Each of these characters is flawed and guilty of much. Ranging from petty jealousies to more serious failings of characters. However, the love and devotion they show for each other from the opening pages until the end is beautiful and profound. The second-tier characters are just as memorable from Andy to Harold, I fell in love with each and every one of their beautiful souls. The villains I had just as strong feelings about. In fact one in particular joins Dolores Umbridge as one of my most despised characters of all time.


This book teaches you some important lessons that can be adapted into life. Relationships are a heavy focus of the novel and one of the strongest messages of the book I took away was that relationships and people need not be put into a box with a fixed label. In fact the most important relationships of all can’t be explained away by a common label. You also learn that no matter what you try no matter how hard you can’t fix someone. You can’t make everything okay and conversely, no one can do that for you. You can only be. I feel I have learnt so much from this story and found myself contemplating aspects of it days after I finished reading it.


I have to say this is a highly unusual novel in the way it did not shy away from all the horrors discussed and didn’t leave anything up to the imagination – it was all spread out their for you to see. You learn just how vile people can be to each other. What saves the novel is also learning how they can also be the best gifts in life. Yanagihara has a way with words and creating a scene so vivid you almost feel as though you are there yourself. I found her writing impeccable and haunting, with some beautiful quotes that just capture the essence of reality. Upon finishing this book all I want to do is go and read A Brief History of Seven Killings, because to have won out over this book in the Man Booker Prize it also must be something incredibly special.


This is the type of book you only red once in your lifetime. Never have I read a book so horrific, so heartbreaking yet so profound, so pure. Nor likely am I to find another book that stays with me like A Little Life. This book is well deserving on the hype and is definitely worth being put to the top of your TBR pile. I give A Little Life five of JB’s paintings that captured each and every one of the four of them in their journey together.


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