I don’t remember where I first heard about ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara, but I do remember that I put it on my to-read list on Goodreads right away.
Then, when I joined #bookstagram, I kept reading about it. So many people were reading it and giving it 4 and 5 star reviews. I knew I had to have it asap, and ordered it with my gigantic book haul in October.
I couldn’t wait to start reading it, but when I heard there was an A Little Life buddy read, I decided to wait and join the buddy read.
Last week, I wrote a blog about buddy reads. And if I’m being honest, I think it skewed my experience of the book. On one hand, I loved reading other peoples views on the book, and that was definitely a good thing. But I also feel I would’ve enjoyed the book more if I had been able to read it as fast as I wanted to, instead of having to wait for the next part until after the discussion.
Anyway, we’re here to talk about the book, so here we go.
If I were a different kind of person, I might say that this whole incident is a metaphor for life in general: 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.
‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara is a story about four friends and their lives from twenty-somethings to fifty-somethings.
Jude is the main character, but one big mystery. All you know is that he’s had a hard life, has trouble walking, and is a lawyer. Willem is his best friend, an actor. JB (artist) and Malcolm (architect) seem like less important characters throughout the book, but are always there.
While reading, you’ll learn more about Jude’s life and what happened to him, but also about what happens in this group of four college roommates until their 50’s.
I think this is also the place for a trigger warning. The book includes very graphic scenes of sexual abuse, violence, self-harm, and suicide.
The only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are – not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving – and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad – or good – it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all.
‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara is heartbreaking, shocking, graphic, raw. I cried until I had headaches, but also smiled so big my jaws ached.
I have no idea how to tell you much I enjoyed this book. ‘Enjoy’ isn’t even the right word, but what other word do you use for a book that you don’t want to put away, long to read when you can’t (because I didn’t want to risk spoiling anything during the buddy-read discussions), and that you’re so emotional about, you’re literally crying or stupidly smiling at your book?
I think it’s clear that it’s a shocking and sad book. But it’s also beautiful—full of love, kindness, hope, and friendship. It’s a reflection of how life is sometimes (terrible and unfortunate), the brutal truth of life.
‘A Little Life’ doesn’t work towards a goal or an ending, it ‘just’ describes Jude’s and his closest friends’ lives. There are some flashbacks and flash-forwards and it’s not always clear who’s talking to who or what time we’re reading about, something I don’t always like (see my review of ‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith). I have to say it confused me a bit. Sometimes I even had to go back a page or two because I realized who was talking and I wanted to re-read with that knowledge. But that’s really the only thing I didn’t like about the book.
Another thing about the plot, that my buddy-read group and I agree on, is that it’s a lot. Maybe a little bit too much. As Janine said in our group chat: “Again? Really?”, and Krysty: “Cut this guy a break”. On the other hand: ‘A Little Life’ is a fictional book. How realistic do books have to be?
The characters are amazing! They’re not perfect, but they’re human. They could be you and me, and I recognized something of myself in all of the biggest characters.
The ending is hard for me to review. I personally could’ve done without the last 100 pages. The ending isn’t bad though, so I can’t rate it badly. It doesn’t have an open end, it doesn’t stop abruptly, it doesn’t leave you with a thousand questions. I had just hoped for something different.
Yes, I’d recommend reading ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara. Definitely. But read it with someone, because you’re going to need the support and you’re going to want to talk about it. Make sure to read it with someone who reads as fast as you, so you don’t have to wait to continue reading. And bring tissues. Don’t read it in public. And finish the book on a day off.