A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
(Doubleday, 2015, 736 pages)
I have to admit right off the bat that the cover to this book almost turned me off to the whole idea of reading it. I know, don’t judge a book by its cover… Well, what finally prompted me to pick up A Little Life was the fact that I was hearing about it everywhere. It was highly praised on a podcast I listen to called “Books on the Nightstand” and then it was getting shortlisted for numerous literary awards. I couldn’t resist the pull any longer.
A Little Life follows a group of 4 friends as they proceed through adulthood. The friends, Jude, Willem, Malcolm, and JB, met in college where they all shared a suite in their dorm. The book takes place after they have all moved to New York City and are finding their way in the world. The central figure in the book (and in their friendship circle) is Jude. Jude suffers from episodes of debilitating pain that seems to stem from damage to his legs that occurred when he was younger. In addition to this physical pain, it’s clear that Jude suffers in other, more emotional, ways but he’s not one to talk about himself or his past – not even with those closest to him.
This novel is about love, friendship, forgiveness, and coming out on the other side of tragedy. We see the men grow over a span of decades and Yanagihara’s focus on character development is pretty great. Every time I was forced to put it down I couldn’t wait to get back to the book because I was so invested in the characters. I was definitely still thinking about them after finishing the book.
I will say that there were some elements of the novel that felt a little unfinished. But overall this is a book I would certainly recommend. Despite its size it reads fairly quickly. And it certainly isn’t a “light” read so prepare yourself for some dark elements. Some people talk about how this book had them sobbing – there were certainly moments where I teared up, so if you’re looking for that kind of read, this is a good one to pick up. Plus, it has gotten rave reviews and, as I mentioned previously, it’s shortlisted for all kinds of awards.