A blog about travel, books and navigating your twenties in one piece

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Recently I'm Reading // A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I finished reading A Little Life in January of this year. Which must make this the most overdue book review ever. But, if nothing else, the fact that eight months later I still feel a need to talk about it is telling of how incredible this book is. It's one of those few books I've read that has really stayed with me ever since I turned the last page.

In case you've been under a rock somewhere and somehow haven't heard of A Little Life, here is its blurb: 

"When four graduates 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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.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 litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome - but that will define his life forever."

One of the many things that I love about this book is that at its root, it's about male friendships and how they develop over time. This might just be my lack of research, but I'm not aware of many modern works of fiction which focus on male friendship. There are countless works of literature about women's friendships - in fact, two books I have read this year focus hugely on female friendship - The F Word by Lily Pebbles and Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton. As women, we generally from a very young age are taught that friends are one of the most important things in life and I'm not sure it's emphasised in quite the same way for men. (But obviously, as a woman, I can only speak from my experience.) So, considering that, it was really refreshing to read a book which looks at male friendship and how incredibly complex it can be. 

A Little Life is a very long book - around 800 pages I believe - which is a little daunting when you pick it up. There are many books I've read of that length or longer (The Goldfinch by Donna Tart springs to mind) which just don't need to be that long. In fact, as much as I enjoyed The Goldfinch I remember despairing a little at parts that I didn't feel were necessary and seemed to just be in the book for the hell of it. However, A Little Life thrives from every single sentence of the book. Hanya Yanagihara's ability to describe some of the rawest emotions humans are capable of feeling is unbelievable. So detailed and carefully worded are those descriptions that at many points I felt as though I was firsthand seeing the character Jude's pain. 

To be honest, I don't know how to begin describing the emotions that I felt when I read this book. Alongside the many nuances of friendship and how it develops over time, A Little Life deals with sexual abuse, trauma and self-harm. It is far from an easy read but it is the most worthwhile one I can think of. When reading it I felt such happiness at points but also the deepest heartbreak at Jude's circumstances. Reading it deeply, deeply affected me and it taught me so much about what is important in life. It taught me the horrors of sexual abuse and self-harm and that friendship really is everything in this life. No matter how terrible your past may have been, there are good people out there who will do their best to pull you out from the darkness. And, even when that's not enough there's such beauty in the attempt. Above all, I think this book is so important in its emphasis on how crucial talking is when you've been through trauma. Especially for men who typically find it harder to talk about their feelings and troubles. 

A Little Life perfectly embodies why I love fiction so much. Because, even though it's not real, Yanagihara's capturing of human experience and emotion is so incredible that it feels real and the reader is completely immersed into Willem, Jude, JB and Malcolm's lives. If you're considering it but aren't sure then I urge you to pick up this book as soon as you can and thank me later!

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