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sometimes cruel painter pursuing fame in the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.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 lawyer yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by a degree of trauma that he fears he will not only be unable to overcome – but that will define his life forever.
- Pages: 720
- Published: August 2015
- Publisher: Picador
- Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Adult
It has taken me more than a month to read this book, given to the fact how massive of a book it is, and of the topics and issues that it speaks about.
How could I possibly give this book a rating, when I don’t know where I stand with this book – whether I love it or hate it. It was a very readable book, that is for sure – but hard too at the same time because of where the story leads us. I can’t say I enjoyed reading the book, because how can I enjoy a book that made me weep and feel all sorts of negative emotion because it is so distressing. But then, it gave me hope and taught me compassion and empathy to a character who I know is fictional and yet cannot help but feel real at the same time. I was moved by it and scarred by it.
It is a book that has kept me up at night – thinking about it, wondering what will happen next to the character – one character specifically, Jude. It is a hard book to read, not in the sense that the writing style is complicated – but more to do with the issues that it deals with. It gave me a new sense of feeling when reading books – when I have cried and felt angry for characters before, reading A Little Life has placed me in the shoes of every character.
A Little Life follows the story of four young men who met each other during their college years and have become a close knit group of four: JB, Willem, Malcolm and Jude. As you read the book, it becomes clear the novel is truly centralised with Jude – because everything that each of the others do almost always have to do with Jude or they have Jude in mind. I love how Yanagihara’s writing just flows, and how the perspective of the novel jumps from one character to the next, back and forth with so much ease – that it only feels natural reading it that way.
It was hard for me to read this book – I constantly had to stop and take a break from it, because the raw emotion that I got was just too much, and I needed to stop and breathe, as there are many, many graphic scenes in which I cannot just carry on for a while to read the rest because it gets too much. As the story progresses, the theme does get darker and more disturbing as more is revealed of Jude’s life, such instances are that of child abuse, self-harm and sexual abuse.
Yanagihara wrote it in such a readable way, no complicated sentences or such – just straight to the point. I found myself easing in and out of different characters’ perspective, seeing events from another character’s point of view. Then, there is the fact that not only does this book tell the story of Jude and the others’ pasts – but is also following them throughout their whole lives, up to their 50s. The book separates their lives in decades, it starts from when they are in their 20s and progresses per decade. In a way, it felt much like a biography.
One thing that I did notice was that there was no mention at all of what year each event took place. This was only an observation that I made as I was reading it. There were little distinction as to what the timeline is – yes you are aware that they are in their late 20s, early 30s, in their 40s in their 50s – but you never know even the approximate of the years that they are in.
The book is divided into seven parts – each highlighting different points of the characters lives, courses of events that are vital to the story. Within each part there are approximately three chapters each, excluding the last part which only had one concluding chapter – and is also written in first person perspective.
I found that this way of laying out the book was appropriate as it follows a timeline from their early twenties to their fifties, so you could almost say that each part represents the decade of which their age is.
As much as I found the book as a well written prose – there were quite a few repetition of events. Although they are in the perspective of completely different characters, I cannot help but also feel a slight annoyance in how it seems to be used only to prolong the novel at times – but then it’s also a good thing in a way that you are seeing the events at a separate time. The repetition in itself reinforces how bad things are for Jude, and how in these types of cases it is hard to forget no matter how much people try to tell you that it is going to be all right – reassurance, no matter how much we want them and need them, often do not reassure us at all because in the back of our minds there is that nagging feeling that something will always, always go wrong.
The themes that the book addresses, as I have mentioned previously included abuse and suicide. These dominated the majority of books as Jud struggled to live everyday the way a “normal” person would. But one other theme that I found much mor profound and more important is that of love: love is a recurring theme in this book, be it romantic, family, platonic, friendship, forbidden, etc. It’s all there, and it’s heartwarming and painfully wonderful reading about Jude’s relationship with his friends, most importantly Willem.
It is quite hard, expressing how I feel about this novel – because there are so many emotions that I feel every time I think about it. It is an amazing book, it made me feel all sorts of emotions, it made me feel what the characters felt like – it made me into the character. I cannot say that I was absorbed by the story, because it was a hard book for me to read. I needed to learn to detach myself from the characters to stop myself from constantly crying. I don’t think I have ever cried so much in my life.
Honestly, this has been the hardest book that I have ever read.
In terms of recommending the book, I would recommend it to people who do not mind reading about hard topics. Because this book is heavy with them, and it will be hard for some people (like me). If you are planning on reading this book then you should be prepared for the emotional roller-coaster that you are sure to be in.