Title: A Little Life
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
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Yesterday I got home from work around 4:30. I was about 300-pages deep into A Little Life and wanted to keep going. Just before midnight, I closed the book. This is a 736 page novel and it was then, amidst the crumpled tissues and empty whiskey glass, that I realized I never even ate dinner. This book had captured me so completely that I sat on my couch for five and a half hours just to finish it. So if you want to know what kind of book this is…well, that’s a good way to describe it.
This is not an easy book. There were times I had to put it down and watch a few cat videos on my phone, or text a friend. There were parts that made me want to scream. The last 60 or so pages are a little blurry because of the tears that were constantly in my eyes. And, before we go further, I will warn you that this book is dark. I’m not usually a trigger warning kind of person, but this book deals with self harm, abuse, drug use, and suicide. If you’re in a not very good place, I’d say skip this one.
But for those who want to read it oh, are you in for a treat. This is some of the most beautiful literature I’ve read in a long time. I realize that we are 9 days into January, but I think this might be my book of the year. I’m not all all surprised that it was shortlisted for the Man Booker and National Book awards. Yanagihara is a masterful storyteller, weaving the past and present together in ways that make this impossible to put down.
On it’s surface, this is the story of four friends, college roommates. JB, an artist. Malcolm, an architect. Willem, an actor. Jude, a lawyer. But this is really Jude’s story and, to an extent, Willem’s. The four meet their freshman year at Yale and form a tight bond that follows them as they move to New York and begin their adult lives. The novel spans over 50 years, following them. It also goes into the past, delving into Jude’s history, which you realize early on is grim (to put it mildly.) There is also an incredibly beautiful love story woven through the whole thing.
I won’t go too much into the plot (because you should go read it yourselves), but these characters are gorgeous. They are richly rendered and nuanced and you get a feel for their backstories and motivations. Even the slightly more secondary and tertiary characters feel well-thought out and realized. In fact two of my favorites are more minor roles.
I will say this one took me about 50-75 pages to really get into. I started it on Christmas Day, but put it down to read other things. The size is a little intimidating, but it’s worth it. This is such an incredibly story that will run you through a gamut of emotions. Please go read this, because I really need someone to talk to about Jude. I’ll wait.