I feel like A Little Life is difficult to review, because I’ve been so entirely immersed in these characters’ lives for so long, so entwined in the secrets, trauma, fear and hope of their stories, that I can’t look at this book objectively. It punches you in the gut with raw emotion and pain; with beautiful, elegant prose which never feels out of place despite its length, and with a touching tale of love, and a friendship which developed into more.
This book came highly recommended, to the point where I was bought it for Christmas 2016 after having it profusely recommending to me for a year. I’m glad it came with that personal recommendation though because without that I may have been hesitant about embarking on this epic tome.
And this novel is a bit of work – there’s a lot of ground to cover, and Yanagihara takes her time setting the scene and developing her characters. It essentially follows the lives of New Yorkers Jude, Willem, Malcolm and JB, for around three decades from their late twenties. Each character is well-crafted and unique, from the talented, creative and egotistical artist JB to quiet, earnest architect Malcolm to Willem’s complete unwavering loyalty to his friends.
But at the heart of the group is Jude – a brilliant, talented man who is haunted by a troubled past. Jude is plagued by insecurities and memories of his unconventional childhood which the author gradually reveals to the reader. It’s a tough read, and the flashbacks Jude’s mysterious childhood are some of the most harrowing stuff I’ve ever read.
These flashbacks are broken up by present day narration as the boys settle into New York life and Jude finds himself not only surviving but thriving; as we follow them through the years each member of the foursome finds success with his respective career and, after many hurdles, Jude even finds someone he can open up to about his past.
Without this relationship, this book would be a meandering, bleak tale of depression and abuse. It still feels that way in places, but the relationship was one of the most beautifully drawn I’ve read and makes this tale worth reading. I love how this book encourages you to look beyond race, background, sex and disabilities – it really gets to the heart and soul of a person. It’s not perfect – it’s a tough read – but ultimately it’s a rich and rewarding experience, which might make you look at life and others a little differently.