A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara / ★★★★★
Summary: Former college roommates Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm traverse life in the decades after college. Friendships shift, careers are made, lives change as the future unfolds, but the past haunts Jude, who suffered unspeakable childhood traumas, and who holds them together more than anything, for better or for worse.
They all hold their positions, and it reminds him of a set, in which every scene can be redone, every mistake can be corrected, every sorrow reshot. And in that moment, they are on one edge of the frame, and Jude is on the other, but they are all smiling at one another, and the world seems to hold nothing but sweetness.
Genre: Contemporary/Literary Fiction
I’m going to start off by summing up this book in one word: excruciating. Normally I would find it very difficult to sum up a book in one word, and even though a A Little Life is incredibly dense, incredibly intricate and thorough and long, the word excruciating truly sums up my experience with it. Excruciatingly painful, excruciatingly heartfelt, excruciatingly horrific, excruciatingly tender, excruciatingly devastating. This book is extravagant and wild, brutal and explicit and over the top. And while I loved this book with all my heart, I recommend it with caution. It contains child abuse, pedophilia, rape, self harm, and attempted suicide, and it contains these things relentlessly and extremely.
This book broke my heart. Parts of this book made me hate the characters, parts of this book made me hate myself, parts of this book made me smile, made me furious, made me laugh, made me physically sick, parts of this book made me sob and sob and sob. I cry at books occasionally, but I can count the number of books that have made me sob on one hand, and this book literally had me face down on my bed crying. It made me feel literal pain in my chest. This book is so real and raw and gruesome and terrible and fantastic.
A Little Life is very long and very dense and slow paced, but I managed to read it in just a week because every time I picked it up, I didn’t want to put it down. I was sucked in by the characters first, and then their stories. I loved loved loved reading these characters. I loved reading this book. It’s a dark and horrific exploration of trauma, abuse, and memory, and yet love and friendship in this book are so extremely deep and tender and heartfelt and so intensely complicated.
I will say that at times I did find this book so blown out of proportion that it tested the boundaries of what I was willing to believe as realistic, but since the story was so purposely written that way, I can appreciate it. A Little Life left such an imprint in my mind, and its one of the best books I’ve read this year, if not the best.
Has a character ever pained my heart more than Jude St. Francis?? I don’t know why I’m even asking this question, because the answer is no.
The characters of A Little Life drew me so completely into the story in the first few pages alone. I was surprised at how very quickly I became invested in Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm and the characters around them. I had this idea in my head that this book would be The Secret History-esque and everyone would be unlikable, but a lot of these characters – particularly Jude and Willem – entered my heart so completely. I don’t have the words to adequately explain how I feel about these characters. They really, truly gripped my heart. And then twisted it with all their might.
This book traps you in the lives of these characters. They’re so multifaceted, so flawed, and so real, as are the relationships between them. And some characters are positively, sickeningly vile. A Little Life explores the boundlessness of human love, and of human cruelty.
I loved the way this book was written. It flows in and out of past tense and present tense, present time and past memories. I thought I was going to slog through this book, but the prose achieves density with such fluidity, and I would read a hundred pages or more in one sitting. The writing is bleak and brutal and bright, and is such a singular style. Certain passages gave me chills.
The storytelling was so ruthless and gruesome and overblown, but it worked. It was crazy and terribly real at the same time. Everything exists on such a higher plain of misfortune in this book, and I loved how Yanagihara pulled it off.
Was I satisfied?
My feelings for this book are larger than satisfaction. My fragile paper heart has been torn to SHREDS. I had EXTREMELY high expectations for this book after hearing such high praise for it from several people I trust, and A Little Life met them, it overshot them, it blew them out of the water. My heart hurts so much, I literally woke up the day after I finished it thinking about it, lamenting it in my half-conscious state. This book is truly an experience and I feel like this review didn’t do it justice at all. This book will always devastate me and I’ll love it forever.