TRIGGER WARNING: This review contains the subjects of sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, verbal abuse, psychological manipulation and gaslighting, kidnapping, being held against one’s will, explicit self-harm, violent accidents, drug use, abuse, and addiction. If you are sensitive to any of these themes, this article and book may not be for you.
Proceed under your own watch and take care.
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Publication date: March 10th, 2015
Main characters: Jude St. Francis; Willem Ragnarsson; Malcolm Irvine, JB Marion, Harold Stein, Andy Contractor.
POV: Jude St. Francis. Willem Ragnarsson, Malcolm Irvine, JB Marion, Harold Stein
Sequel, number in series, or stand-alone? Stand-alone
Previous book: –
Following book: –
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
From the very first moment I opened this book, Hanya Yanagihara’s story gradually started taking over my life.
In the beginning, it found me in little things of my day-to-day that made me remember, small fragments of these character’s lives reflected on my own: a piano Jude would like to play on, a lost play that wouldn’t be so lost if someone like Willem took the stage, a painting that J.B. could’ve thought about, a place Malcolm would’ve made more beautiful.
But as I moved forward, these started happening more and more often, until A Little Life became all I could think about, making the whiles I sat to read some sort of dreaded and sickly desired ritual I could never get enough of.
This book is about a friendship that lasts through the ages, a kind of bond in which laws and limits are only defined by its participants, for years, is the only thing that keeps these four men who move to New York hungry for professional success going.
Kind, and beautiful Willem, who aspires to be an actor;
JB, who always knows what needs to be done and yet, stands with his friends instead. Is trying to enter the art world;
Thoughtful, considerate, and perfection-seeking Malcolm, a wealthy lost architect who’s meant to design the most magnificent of places;
And then, there’s Jude.
Wonderful, brilliant, talented, depressed, lost, enigmatic, scarred, loving, most easy-to-love, Jude, a mathematician, and litigator who keeps them whole and forever broken at the same time.
As the book moves forward, Jude’s loved ones will start discovering the unspeakable horrors that haunted his childhood, tainted with undestroyable trauma and a stubborn refusal of redemption.
A Little Life couldn’t have been named a better way, this is the story of a life, only that it’s not just one life, but so many lives that teach us the wonderful horrors and terrifying wonders of waking up every day, what does it mean to keep going.
“Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.”
During the course of this novel, the author takes the liberty of exploring the bonds these men share, pulling every string up to the limit, sometimes, it felt like a contest of how much they could take. And yet, it was endlessly fascinating to see how they managed to get out of them, being excruciatingly kind and caring, making ruthless mistakes, carrying on no matter what.
“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”
This is a long book, made of equally bright and dark, and ambiguous parts in between, in which sometimes, one character takes more credit than another, or the story lingers around one relationship more than others for a while and then shifts back again. So much so, that I don’t think this novel could have been written in other prose that wasn’t Yanagihara’s, that woman moves the reader through the pages in a romantic, and yet soberly sincere and honest way up to the level that I ceased to put limits to my pain. I reached a point in this book in which I no longer asked myself “how much I can take?” And just kept reading, waiting for whatever may come, and dealt with it as such.
For the first part, the story pivots between the four friends, but as they grow older, it becomes clear that this book is about one single person and those who are connected to him.
Jude. It always comes back to him.
So when they reach their fifties, we stop seeing much of Malcolm and JB (they are there, but faded in the background) and focus on Willem and Jude, who never seemed to “grow out” of their friendship, even as years pass by and they become more and more successful, they don’t seem to settle down.
It takes a while for them to realize that they don’t need to settle down, as long as they have each other
“They were inventing their own type of relationship, one that wasn’t officially recognized by history or immortalized in poetry or song but which felt truer and less constraining.”
Willem is a kind and loving soul that cares about Jude more than anything else in this world, they are a relationship of friendship bound by nothing more but the love they have for each other. It fascinated me, how much people cared about Jude, and how helpless they were to help him, how Willem had to stand every night, knowing that the person he loved most in the world was cutting himself, and being unable to do anything but wait, be there for him, give him time.
Even as the story gives us hope at some points, it becomes clear that Jude was only destined to end in one way. A story about someone who doesn’t get better, who doesn’t want to get better, someone who’s too scarred and damaged to live on.
The Perks of a Wallflower is my favorite book of all times and for various reasons, I found A Little Life so familiar to it. For starters, they both own the same story about a boy who had suffered abuse as a child (of course, Jude’s trauma and pain go deeper than Charlie’s ever did due to the gravity of each situation), and later in life, this boy becomes surrounded by people who redeem his past by loving him as much as they can and making him aware of the love he deserves.
In both books, the main character has a teacher. For Charlie, it’s Bill in high school, as for Jude, it’s Harold in college, who later become their friends and those who care about them the most.
During the course of this book, who I suffered for the most was Harold Stein, Jude’s father in every sense of the word that matters, someone who watched Jude go through everything rough and beautiful the world had to offer, and who was always there for him, no matter what.
A Little Life asks Harold simply the most interesting, painful, and worthy question that broke my heart and at the same time, mended it in so many ways.
“In those months I thought often of what I was trying to do, of how hard it is to keep alive someone who doesn’t want to stay alive. That was what I thought: that I would rather have him suffering and alive—than dead.”
How do you save someone who doesn’t want to be saved?
In this book, for every heartbreakingly horrible moment, there’s a heartbreakingly beautiful one. But how much is too much? When does the ruse of suffering end? Books like these remind me of that unanswered question John Green planted in his novel Looking for Alaska. How do we get out of the labyrinth of suffering? How do we end it? When do we accept that it doesn’t get better?
If we let someone go, are we being merciful or cruel?
When someone opts to go, are they being selfish? Or selfless? The brave and the desperate, everything in one.
I think that Andy, Jude’s medic, struggles with the same thing. His sole purpose is healing, and yet, he loves the one patient he can’t fix.
This novel deals with trauma in a raw, horrendous, and real way that not many authors dare to put into words, nothing’s sugar-coated. The moments and memories of abuse are detailed and lengthy. While reading this book, you might feel physical and psychological struggles to go on, I was nauseated with the cutting, I went out of breath with the beating, and the nasty words that only meant deceive and harm, I went blind with rage towards those awful men and pedophilia is the very worst, horrible, indescribable thing a person could do. We can’t keep tabooing these subjects, they have to be said out loud if we want a change.
Gareth Greenwell a writer in The Atlantic, baptized A Little Life as the Great Gay Novel. To be honest, I didn’t know this novel was LGBTQ, and I wasn’t expecting it to be, but it makes so much sense now, and I can’t help but agree with this writer. Hanya doesn’t treat some of the main characters being Gay as something special, there is not big “coming out” scene or struggle, or celebration, it’s just the way they are. Equality. Another form of love.
While I agree that LGBTQ struggles should be represented and celebrated in media, it’s also refreshing to see someone who treats it as nothing that stands out, love just like any other. This is how it should be for me.
When I finished reading this book, I felt some sort of relief, that it was all over. How couldn’t I? Being exposed to this world’s most horrendous parts and most beautiful ones can be scary, dreadful, exciting at times, and yet so tiring at others. But what I found, is that once you close this book, it’s not over, not really. We just shift from one life to another.
This is not a story one can walk easily away from.
It’s impossible to leave “A Little Life” being the same as when you started, there’s something about this book that changes a pivotal part of the reader’s mind when they finish it. This is the kind of book that changes lives, that makes me understand a little more why I am alive, to value what we have and never stop seeking for more.
When I get asked why I love sad stories, this is the book I’d like to refer to. In the end, the suffering is worth it, because it makes me feel so alive.
This is the kind of book I’d like to write someday.
“Because he deserved happiness. We aren’t guaranteed it, none of us are, but he deserved it.”
I think that is all I have for you today but, if you are interested in my rants, you can follow me on Goodreads, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, where I like to get a little goofier. And if you want more content about books, stay tuned to the blog!
I also wrote a small review on Goodreads about this book that you can read HERE.
And remember, even if sometimes feels like it, you´re not alone, there´s always something rooting for you. But if you feel that no one out there is, I would happily be that person, here´s my email if you ever need someone to talk to, I will respond. firstname.lastname@example.org