BOOK REVIEW: A LITTLE LIFE BY HANYA YANAGIHARA
I don’t usually read adult contemporaries, but A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara was gifted to me by my friend Zulay who assured me it would ‘change my life.’ Despite a relatively slow start, after around a third I was hooked. This book opened and shattered my heart all at once. I was gripped, horrified, and hatefully devastated by every aspect of it.
I told Zulay I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I experienced it. Jude’s story will stay with me my whole life. A heartbreakingly emotional story of friendship, love, abuse and self-loathing, beautifully written in what I believe is a true modern classic masterpiece.
I would recommend this as a one-time read to anyone.
Due to the fact that I cried at the end, that as a writer the prose inspired me, and that am still thinking about it (and probably still will be months later), I have to give it 4.5 stars.
However, there were things that I didn’t like so much, which I will go on to discuss now.
There was an inconsistency in character depth which I’m not sure was intentional or not. Jude was a deeply complex character, and by the end of the book I felt everything he felt, understood every thought he had and believed every reaction he expressed. Other secondary characters had *good* development, particularly JB, Caleb and Brother Luke.
All other characters seemed to fall by the wayside, including ones who were huge parts in the storyline, particularly Malcolm, Dr Traylor and Willem.
**Serious spoilers ahead.**
– What part did Malcolm play other than the rich heterosexual who designed their homes whenever they moved in somewhere, allowing for beautiful descriptions of the surroundings? When he died, did anyone really care?
– Brushing aside the fact that, realistically, how much bad luck and how many paedophiles can one person run into in their lifetime, what was the deal with Dr Traylor? Why was this random psychopath just lying around in wait? Why did he run Jude over? What were his motives? What was his personality? What was his back story? He was just killed off in one quick sentence, as though swept under the carpet as irrelevant, to be forgotten about, despite being the cause for much of Jude’s turmoil.
– Willem, arguably the second protagonist of the entire story, had absolutely no personality! All he did was act as Jude’s noble caretaker, obsessed with Jude and selflessly in love with him. Every single decision he made was based on Jude, he had no thoughts for himself, no desires for himself, no real personality. When he died, I didn’t cry because Willem was dead, I cried because JUDE was upset that Willem was dead. How can one protagonist be so deeply written that I feel his every qualm and the other so poorly written that I don’t care if he’s gone?!
– Whilst we had a couple of realistic villains such as Caleb and Brother Luke, Dr. Traylor was so out-of-this-world black and white evil that it felt out of place in the story. If he had more backstory perhaps this would have given him more credibility. He felt shoe-horned in to explain Jude’s injuries.
When a book is 700 pages long, there is usually a valid reason for it to be so meaty. This book had reason, but I do believe a big chunk of repetetive scenes could have been erased. Jude’s constant self-harming, and constant apologising, mostly.
At one point I felt so frustrated I wanted to throw the book at the wall. If you’re really sorry, Jude, STOP DOING IT AND SAYING YOU’RE SORRY! And if I was feeling this frustrated, surely all his friends, his doctor, would feel the same way and have him committed or disgard him as too emotionally draining to be friends with? The unwavering support from his friendship group, whilst the warming side of what is a very dark story, is too unrealistic. One or two friends, perhaps, but an entire group of grown and married people who have known him for over thirty years of self-abuse and just stand by as enablers? It was frustrating.
LACK OF WOMEN
There are no women in the book, save for Julia, who seems to serve no real role other than being Harold’s wife. She has barely any lines or scenes of note in the entire story. Whilst this usually wouldn’t bother me if it made sense for the story, in this case, it really, really doesn’t.
Someone who has grown up his entire life being abused by men would surely feel some sort of safety or be drawn to women in some shape or form.
The story really misses a trick with looking into his maternal desires, his relationship with Julia, his relationships with women full stop. It seems strange that he would continue surrounding himself with men and avoiding women, when women have never been the ones to cause him suffering.
NOW, THINGS I LIKED…
This book is wonderfully diverse, and I do believe that it does justice for the majority of the characters. We have blacks, asians, mixed race characters. Gay and heterosexual characters. And this is reflective of the real world.
The book is painfully, bleakly honest. This is what makes it so emotional. It doesn’t glamorize sexual abuse, or suffering, or self-harm. It just tells it how it is, and that is what is so damning and dark about it all. It’s talking about things most people want to turn their heads away from, and it does so with such sad truth that it’s painful to read. It talks about all the things everybody else is too scared to feature as a key plotline, from suicide to rape. And it does so in the most respectful way.
You will feel emotions when you read this book, and is that not the point of all stories? To engage the reader, to make them feel something? You cannot read this book and not feel something, whether it’s sorrow or repulsion, hatred or empathy. You will feel something.