Book Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life

Picador, March 2016

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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.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

At 720 pages this is probably one of the longest books I have read in a while but it is also one of the most moving, well-written novels I have read for some time.

Hanya Yanigahara is a fantastic writer and this book is an emotional rollercoaster ride you will still be feeling even after finishing. This is not a happy, light read. It will break your heart at times and make you want to cry; it will also take hold of you, strap you in tight and won’t let you go until you make it to the end.

We meet the boys in their first dorm together during college. Their friendships are still reasonably fresh and new and we see each character as a young student working towards their chosen career. As the book progresses we see each of them start jobs, fall in love, break up, go on holiday and generally live their lives. However, the main focus of A Little Life is on Jude, who has many deep, dark secrets about his horrific past. As we see him grow older the past comes back to haunt him again and again and we see how he struggles to live a normal life compared to the rest of them.

Hanya does an excellent job of developing the characters as we see their progression from boys, to young men, to middle aged and onwards. Each character is believable as they all have their passions, their traits, their weaknesses and their strengths. In the real world, nobody stays the same as they grow up and Hanya portrays this perfectly as each character reacts to events in different manners.

If you liked Donna Tartt’s The Secret History you will love this book. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015 and a finalist in the National Book Award for Fiction and having read it I can completely see why.

However, I do feel that this novel should come with a trigger warning as it can be dark, depressing and disturbing at times. So, if you are emotionally vulnerable or prone to triggers this may not be the book for you.

But, I would highly recommend it to everyone else, just be prepared for a lot of late nights if, like me you read before bed. Also, it may be worth having some tissues nearby as you never know when you may need them.


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Liz Hewett
Liz is an avid reader and writer. She’s married to Keith and is currently living in Hampshire with their mischievous but loveable cat, Jeff. When she hasn’t got her head stuck in a book you can find her putting pen to paper and editing her own book that she wrote for Nanowrimo 2014. In fact, she has always loved writing and had her first article published at the age of 8 in a local church magazine.

Liz absolutely loves reading to the extent that she has even made herself a reading area in their small house which is lined with masses of books and book inspired posters. Some of her favourite authors are: Sophie Kinsella, Freya North, Tess Gerritsen and J.D Robb (Nora Robert’s pen name).

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