A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara

Genre: Fiction
Synopsis: When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.


Review: I don't feel qualified to review this book, so I'm going into this with the aim of sharing how it made me feel. Tired, for one. It's over 720 pages of almost unadulterated misery. So why read it? Maybe you shouldn't. Personally, I don't remember the last time a book basically stunned me into contemplative silence.

This is the story of how difficult it can be to love oneself, taken to extremes. It is the story of how sometimes, all the love in the world is not enough to overcome trauma. It is also the story of the fallout of deep, systematic abuse. It is horrifying, and while most of what is contained in this book at both ends of the spectrum - the abuse and pain, and the sheer comfort, success and financial freedom, are not things most of us will ever experience, in a way they don't matter. We don't need to experience the suffering or the freedom for this to be an incredibly human novel. No amount of money or freedom can save you from the things you believe about yourself. Sometimes, not even the heartfelt love of those around us can save us. Everyone doubts themselves, feels like a failure sometimes, wonders are they truly loved, or believes they cannot be. Jude is the personification of these doubts and fears, created in the most brutal way by other human beings. And I think why his self-loathing and his determination to never accept what he deserves does not become tedious in these 700 pages is exactly that - I see so much of myself in him. When I want to make Jude feel better - and god, did I want to do everything for this man to help him - it's the empathetic part of my mind reaching out to the things I bury deep and chasing them away from myself. I rooted for him, I wanted him to find contentment, because if Jude can, anyone can.

This book has flaws - it's definitely overwritten, and I would argue it takes a while to settle its focus on Jude, leaving the reader wondering will we learn no more about other characters. It is however immersive. I felt like Jude was a real person, and each of the supporting characters - Willem, J.B., Malcolm, Andy, and Harold each feel like a different layer of support, a different approach to dealing with Jude and helping him deal with himself. It's worth mentioning, this book depicts extreme physical, sexual, and self-inflicted abuse. It is not light reading, in any way. It's probably the most depressing thing I've ever read. But it's fantastic.

Rating: 5/5 

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