Book Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life

Book number 42 of my Goodreads Reading Challenge (and book number 10 of my holiday reads) is Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life.

‘When four graduates 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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.  Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success and pride.  Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realise, 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.’ (Thanks Amazon)

Firstly I must confess that it has taken me months to get round to reading this, despite two of my friends continuously pressing me to pick it up.  Clearly I am a very keen reader, however it’s sheer size was quite off putting!  Then, when I did finally pick it up I actually put it back down again.  I got three chapters in and honestly, I just wasn’t getting it.  I couldn’t understand why they loved it so much.  At their insistence however, I returned to this novel when I made it to my holiday.  Plenty of uninterrupted time to lose myself in this harrowing, beautiful and tragic novel of life, love and friendships.

I don’t even know where to start in reviewing this novel.  It was heart wrenching and devastating in so many ways.  It is a long book, with so many complexities to follow as you travel alongside Willem, JB, Malcolm and Jude as they grow up together and find their way in the world.  Each has different experiences, but the constant is each other.  Their love and support for each is other is tested in so many ways over the years but they remain tied to each throughout the novel.

Ultimately the novel centres around Jude, their friend who is damaged both physically and emotionally.  Whilst the other three are open books, Jude remains a mystery to them all as the decades pass.  Even to the reader Jude remains a mystery, as only snippets of his past are revealed at any one time.  What emerges is a truly shocking, tragic story of a childhood marred by physical and mental abuse, the kind of which you just can’t imagine.  Jude is defined by his life experiences, and you watch him as he battles with his demons.

Mental health is a prominent feature of this novel, and is something I genuinely believe needs to be discussed far more openly.  Jude is a prime example of someone that is suffering in silence like so many others do.  Jude has been damaged in the most horrific way, and even though he has the love of those closest to him he struggles to overcome the horrors of his past.

I cannot recommend this book enough.  It will take you time, it will damage you emotionally and you will reach the end not knowing how to deal with the knowledge you gain.  This is one of those books that will stop you picking up any other book for quite some time.  Jude, Willem, JB and Malcolm will stay with you long after you close the book.

Rating: 📖 📖 📖 📖 📖

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