All consuming, deeply affecting, disturbingly hard to shake off
About A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: When four classmates 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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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.
My two cents
I started this book with a lot of apprehension. One, it's 736 pages (seriously, what a chunkster! How many books have you read that are over 500 pages?). Two, I've read only raves (so what if I hate it?) Three, it deals with very dark subject matter (sexual abuse, cutting, violence, suicide) and honestly, I generally steer because I find it hard to shake.
However, despite these disclaimers, I can only add my voice to the raves. A Little Life cannot be called "little" in any way. This novel has the scope and breadth of an epic novel, which is a lot to say for a story that focuses on the life of a man who is named after the patron saint of lost causes.
I can't go into the detail of the plot because it would spoil too many things for first-time readers. In sum, reading this is a journey in itself. It made me feel such a rollercoaster of emotions: it made me laugh, cry, cringe, want to throw up, cheer, and it even traumatized me slightly. I can't describe it myself as being empathic because I could never ever imagine myself in Jude's shoes (nor would I dare to). But this novel is all consuming, deeply affecting, disturbingly hard to shake off. It made me totally uncomfortable with its graphic descriptions of neglect, abuse and self-inflicted pain ... but then when I felt the desire to look away, it just sucked me right back in.
Why couldn't I put this down? The characters are realistically multi-dimensional and following them though their lifetimes, I couldn't help but buy into the notion that are real people. Then there is the writing, which is simple and beautiful. The highs and the lows of this novel are extreme and necessary, if only to highlight that everyone has a "little life" that is begging to be lived.
As I navigated this novel, I had to stop and breathe at many points. Literally. When I finished, I didn't pick anything else up, if only to just soak up and realize how beautifully tragic and real this book was.
I hate the cover. Why does it have to be such a literal take of the contents? If it bothers you too, read this novel sans book jacket.
My verdict: Dark, realistic, disturbing, epic. Read it if you dare.
I received a copy of this book through the publisher for honest review consideration.