A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is a slow burner. The book does what it sets out to do; that is, leave the reader devastated. It was honestly hard to articulate and organise my thoughts on this book which shook me so profoundly.
The story follows the lives of four friends – Willem (the actor), JB (the artist), Jude (the lawyer), and Malcolm (the architect) – from their college days. With little money to survive, they are driven by an ambition to become successful in their field.
What truly sets this book apart is how the writer dwells on the complex human emotions which these characters feel and brings it to life. This really helped me picture the boys as real people than just fictional storybook personalities. As she explores the inter-personal relationships between our characters, we get a glimpse into their past backgrounds. Jude, who is mostly in focus, is the physically weakest in the gang because of his injured leg. We get to see his stoic nature and stubbornness to try to hide his pain from his loved ones. Early on in the book, the author also drops hints about his abusive upbringing.
We continuously witness Jude attempting to grapple with the claws of his past, which affect his current relationships. As a reader, I swear it tore me little by little every time I saw him suffer and self-deprecate. The author also does a phenomenal job of capturing everyone’s inner battles. Because of this, you get an inside glimpse of the character’s thought process which went behind making a decision. So even though the character is unlikeable, you can’t help but empathize with them.
I promise you that reading A Little Life will be difficult, even life-consuming at times. But it shouldn’t stop you from picking up this genius piece of literature that brings pain, beauty, and a whole lot of magic to the table.