February 6, 2019, by Sunita Tailor
Book Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This blog was written by second year English with Creative Writing student, Holly Humphreys.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is an absolute brick of a novel; a gruelling journey of 720 pages each brimming with gorgeous, intricate prose. Despite the book’s size I found myself itching to read more every time I had to put it down – I read it on the train, between writing essays, staying up late into the night promising myself just one more chapter before I went to bed.
The narrative follows the interwoven lives of four friends as they grow from adolescence into middle-age and centres on Jude, a man with a torrid past that he keeps locked deep within himself despite his friends’ pleas to let them in. The title is misleading in the best way possible – the characters’ lives are anything but little, spanning decades and reaching millions of people in some cases, yet all of that pales in comparison to the complexities of the relationships between the main characters.
The depth of Yanagihara’s storytelling makes the minutiae of everyday life, the comforting predictability of friendships spanning decades, seem as vast and important as the more shocking events in the book, namely Jude’s childhood abuse and his struggles with self-harm as a result. Her prose is so rich with detail, delicate descriptions of buildings and landscapes juxtaposed with harsh, blunt depictions of violence, that you are immediately sucked into the world of these characters, empathising with their successes and their struggles as though you were living them yourself.
Although the book has many overarching themes including trauma and uncertainty about the future, to me the most significant is friendship. One of my favourite quotes from the book is spoken by Willem, a farmhand’s son from the American Midwest who becomes an international movie star – ‘”I know my life is meaningful because…because I’m a good friend. I love my friends, and I care about them, and I think I make them happy.”’ The issues in this novel are challenging, but in spite of this (or maybe because of this) it is an undeniably moving story about found-family and the pleasure that life can hold if spent with good people.