“Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.”
Author: Hanya Yanagihara Published: 2015 Pages: 720
A Little Life concerns the lives of four people: Malcolm, JB, Willem, and Jude. An architect, artist, actor, and lawyer respectively, we learn about their lives from college all the way through to late adulthood. Very early on in the novel it becomes clear that Jude is the man who ties them all together. He is their anchor, and their magnet, and yet the other three men know nearly nothing about him. He is an enigma to them. Traumatised and left broken by his childhood, Jude made a promise to himself never to trust anyone, and therefore never tell anyone about the horrors of his past. But as his relationships with the other men evolve, and as he still struggles to control the demons in his head, Jude realises that the only way to continue may mean sacrificing the privacy and secrets he’s been holding onto for most of his life.
I was completely infatuated with this book. It was awful and yet so beautiful at the same time. It explores themes of abuse, love, friendship, mental health and Yanagihara wasn’t afraid to do anything. She never held back from pain from suffering, or from truth. As a novel with 720 pages, and one that is written in very small font, the book needed to be gripping to keep my interest. It wasn’t a slow start, but I will say that I wasn’t convinced right from the first page. For the first few hundred pages, I was interested in their lives and their stories, but only as much as any other okay book. But, what I soon realised, was how Yanagihara was using Jude to keep the reader turning the page.
Jude’s life was truly haunting, and the more I learnt about him, the more it just kept getting worse. But as I kept reading, I was hungry to find out all the details of his past. It was a horrible obsession and the more cruel, and brutal the details became, the more I was desperate to read on to find out when he finally gets his happy ending. I wanted so much for Jude just to be okay. He was broken in so many ways, but what Yanagihara proves is friendship is what truly saves him. Without JB and Malcolm, Jude wouldn’t have known the trials and tribulations of friendship, and would not have had 2 more people to lean on. Without Harold, he never would have had someone to look up to, and depend on. Without Andy he never would have known how to be completely transparent and unashamed. And with Willem, Jude really began to understand love. Platonic, romantic, unapologetic, unconditional. That’s what I adore most about this novel – it’s celebration of love in every single form.
With A Little Life, Yanagihara shows the lengths humans will go to in order to hurt each other, for their own pleasure, but also how far we will go to save someone we love. Jude becomes a pillar, a metaphor, and an example which showed that no matter how broken life has made you, there will always be people who see you as whole. To Willem, Jude was just Jude, and the mundanity of that is what made their relationship so beautiful, and why Jude loved him so much. Jude and Willem were captivating for me, their love for each other gave me hope throughout the novel.
I read an interesting article from Vulture, in which they were interviewing Antoni Porowski and he said that he’s sometimes a little like Jude, and sometimes a little like Willem, and I like that aspect of the novel too. I hope that no one would be able to relate to Jude’s story exactly, but there are snippets of their personalities which would ring true for a lot of people, and the novel’s obscure reliability makes it a whole lot more likeable too.
This book is heavy, and long, and excruciating. And yet, it is so profoundly raw that it is nothing less than beautiful. I have not only given this book 5 stars, but officially it has become my favourite book ever. I don’t think I’ll ever recover from A Little Life, and frankly, I don’t think I want to. It broke me and may be one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read. Hanya, you are a genius.