A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A friend told me that this book would “change my life” which is a powerful review and leaves a lot for any book to live up to. It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize which again slightly filled me with dread as I have found little satisfaction from so many Booker Prize list recommendations. I think I could go so far as to say that the books Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, and Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, are the only ones from this prestigious list that I have ever managed to finish.

A Little Life by Hanya YanagiharaI must be honest and admit that were it not for my long-haul flight which made me persevere I may well have given up on this book but once I had completed the first 150 pages I was captivated as it is unlike any book that I have read before.

The Amazon synopsis: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is an immensely powerful and heartbreaking novel of brotherly love and the limits of human endurance.

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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.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 realize, 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.

The story is totally compelling and the way in which the 4 main characters are unusual but totally believable. The more I read the more harrowing was the story as it unfolded however there was joy to be found within the story, the love and loyalty of 4 friends who were natural ‘bed-fellows’ but found a deep and unending friendship that brought with it immense pain as well as happiness.

There was a particular paragraph of prose that really, in my opinion, illustrated the ability of this author, Hanya Yanigihara, and for anyone who is a parent it will ring home.

The author is describing the love the parent, Harold, has for his child Jacob, “But it is a singular love, because it is a love whose foundation is  not physical attraction, or pleasure, or intellect, but fear. You have never known fear until you have a child, and maybe that is what tricks us into thinking that it is more magnificent, because the fear itself is more magnificent. Every day, your first thought is not “I love him” but “How is he?” The world, overnight, rearranges itself into an obstacle course of terrors.”

I was left feeling emotionally involved with the characters and whilst the story was beyond my life experiences it was totally believable. I understand this is the author’s second novel and it has left me with the dilemma of what to read next. My only hope is that this author knows what to write next as I am sure her new-found fan club will be waiting with great expectation and hope.

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anne miles
anne miles
7 years ago

Hi, I read your recommendation ‘I am Pilgrim’ and thoroughly enjoyed it and recommended it to several people so will give your new title a go xx