‘A Little Life’ By Hanya Yanagihara [Book Review]

a little life hanya yanagihara rakuten kobo
Image: Rakuten Kobo

I never thought a book could hurt me this much. I just can’t move on that I still think of its main characters as though they were real people and feel sad about their fate.

“A Little Life” tells the story of four men who have been friends since their college days. They struggle with adult life at first but eventually find success in their respective fields. Malcolm becomes a famous architect, JB gains popularity as an artist, Willem becomes a very successful actor, and Jude turns into a badass litigator for a major firm.

Yet, there’s something more. Behind the story of their successes, there are countless tales about struggle, heartbreaks, and trauma. As readers, we can see how characters interact with one another, and how the main characters form allegiances and create conflicts as time goes by. We are also introduced to other characters who are also important in the story, such as Harold, Julia, Andy, and Richard.

As the novel progresses, there’s an apparent shift in focus in the narrative, giving more exposure to Jude and his past. Sure, from the beginning of the story, there are already details hinting that something horrible happened to Jude when he was a child. But its gravity isn’t revealed until the later part of the novel. As the real story is unveiled, readers also come to realize the severity of the trauma it has caused the character, eventually shedding light on some mysteries about Jude’s personality, habits, and recurring issues.

To be honest, I had to take a break from reading this book from time to time. It’s not like other novels which I could read in one sitting. For one, it’s longer than the average novel. But what makes it really difficult to devour in one go is the fact that it’s heavy. Apart from sexual assault and physical abuse, it also tackles suicide.

But of course, this novel isn’t all about misery. It also depicts a lot of moments of happiness and beauty and each time it does, it feels like it’s really earned. I think it’s because the characters are really fleshed out and there’s proper buildup. It does not seem hurried, which is usually the problem with some books that simply try to make people cry without doing the dirty work first.

“A Little Life” is long and intense, but I can say that it’s a rewarding read. Its language is beautiful as well, which makes the reading experience even better.

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