A little life – by Hanya Yanagihara
I finally read this whilst on holiday, a year after buying it – a bit like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, it just took me forever to get started and engage with the characters. I kept starting A Little Life and then leaving it, my head turned by a different book I was more desperate to read. I don’t really know why. Maybe I didn’t find the group of young men at the start of the novel that engaging – a cliché even. Initially it just felt like I was reading a poor man’s Secret History.
But persevere I did, and this holiday I made it a personal mission to get the darn thing read.
Once I’d got past the slight cliché of the characters, I started to really like them all…REALLY like them – especially the flawed protagonist Jude. It soon becomes clear that Jude has had the most appalling, vile childhood imaginable, though initially you don’t know any detail – just that it’s had the most profound impact on his entire self, both physically and mentally.
This is a difficult, often graphic and explicit read, so if you’re one of the few people who still hasn’t read A Little Life, I’d say walk with caution. It’s challenging, often shaking me to the core, and the descriptions of the child cruelty left me in racking sobs, you know that feeling when you can’t un-read something? And mostly wish you hadn’t done so…. (let alone the passages about the long-term effect of those actions).
So I personally think unless you’re immune to that, you’d need to be in a fairly robust and happy place yourself before reading this heart breaking story of a young man’s pain and demons. I did find some of the story arcs and devices a bit trite and immature in parts, but I found myself shrugging that off, as I felt invested in getting to the end. Not giving anything at all away about the plot, I will say that the success garnered by the characters was slightly off the charts and felt a bit ‘soapy”.
Having said all of that, once I finally immersed myself, I did find I couldn’t put it down. I needed to know how things ended up for the four main characters, as well as the bit parts who came in to their lives, becoming just as important. I genuinely cared about them and cried real tears several times and I know it will be a long time before I can fully shake off the feeling of great sadness it left me with.
I’m a pretty pacey reader, but this one did take me some time, my whole week away – and I did feel at times that Yanagihara needed a slightly braver editor (as I also felt about Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, to be fair). But as far as a courageous bit of storytelling goes, it’s worth delving in. Just make sure you line up a happy, carefree book for afterwards (more soon)…
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara published by Doubleday Books