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A Little Review For a Big Book: ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara

This book is daunting as hell with its page count of 720 and a vague promise of secrets and hidden pain found within the 4 friends who serve as the main characters; their description taken word for word from the book’s blurb, “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sometimes cruel painter pursuing fame in the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.”

I only recently discovered this novel, when my mother started reading it earlier this year, and I watched her almost journey through this book. I saw when she cried, and when she laughed, and when she read with a horrified look on her face, and when she finally closed it; she told me I had to read it. At first, I was sceptical, 720 pages? And she wanted me to read it? I’m a hardcore reader, but that seemed overwhelming.

And it was, overwhelming in the best way I can possibly imagine. I’ve now read it twice, once in February and once in May, and both times I finished having shed tears, practical sobs at heartbreaking scenes, and tears at the beautiful moments too. And both times I finished it, and immediately wanted to read it again, even though I knew it would be an overwhelming and heartbreaking journey.

I should back up. A Little Life is a novel written by Hanya Yanagihara, published in 2015. It centres around 4 friends who meet in college and their lives over the years, set in New York City. But this book is really about Jude, who serves as the backbone as we experience his heartbreaking life, and honestly, it is heartbreaking, and beautiful at times, so overwhelming that you’ll forget he’s not real. It’s a hard book to get through in terms of quantity, but the quality is there; perhaps at times a little longwinded (seriously 720 pages!) but the characters are beautifully written and it captures the human experience, the delicate balance of happiness and sadness and destruction and loneliness and beautiful friendship, that we all experience in some form or another. Yanagihara’s writing is exceptional in a way that is hard to come by, it’s forceful and painful and confronting, while also being so incredibly wonderful and beautiful and poetic almost.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the hell out of this novel, but honestly, if you love reading and you love books that resonate and stay with you long after you read the last word, do yourself a favour and pick up this book.

Although I do have to warn you, and this may be seen as a spoiler, but at the end of the day saving someone’s mental health is more important than spoilers. This book is still incredible even with the spoilers, but this book comes with some major trigger warnings; abuse, self-harm, suicide attempts, pedophilia, rape, domestic violence. This book has it all, so take care of yourself, and if you can’t read it for any reason, don’t, because it doesn’t shy away from really hard topics.
But if you can read it, I highly suggest you do, it’s a book that will stay with you for a long, long, long time. I don’t think it’ll ever leave me.

And if you don’t believe me, here are some other reviews (taken from the back of my copy of the book): 
“A Little Life is unlike anything else out there… Quite simply unforgettable” – Independent on Sunday
“Utterly compelling… An extraordinary novel. It is impossible to put down… And it is almost impossible to forget.” – Daily Express
“A Little Life makes for near-hypnotically compelling reading… An astonishing achievement: a novel of grand drama and sentiment, but it’s a canvas Yanagihara has painted with delicate, subtle brushstrokes.” – Independent
“A singularly profound and moving work… It’s not often that you read a book of this length and find yourself thinking ‘I wish it was longer’ but Yanagihara takes you so deeply into the lives and minds of these characters that you struggle to leave them behind.” – The Times

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Nina is an 18-year-old introverted girl who is passionate about inclusive feminism, body positivity and religious studies - and when she's not writing she's probably watching SKAM, trying to learn Norwegian or stuck with her head in a book.

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