“A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life(Author: Hanya Yanagihara) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


  1. A book that I have postponed reading since the day I found it existed, yet one which I’ve had for this entire time. 
  2. A review that I don’t know from where to start writing. 
  3. A plot which I could not begin describing.
  4. A story toward which I have no idea what I feel.

If anyone ever told you that A Little Life is disturbing… they did not lie. I spent the entire book, torn between trying to accept this as pure fiction, unrealistic in its core, and trying to dissuade myself from hating people for doing such things to each other.

Since A Little Life has left me very existentially confused, I’ll simply try to start this review with a short summary of the book: A Little Life tells the story of four friends – JB, Malcolm, Willem, and Jude. Among the four, the center of the book, the core of their relationships, the focus of the entire story is Jude. Jude, who is a mystery to everyone who tries to get to know him, handsome, intelligent, talented, challenging, private, enigmatic, in pain. The book follows the four friends in the span of thirty years, and also shows flashbacks to their youth, and glimpses in the private life of Jude, which he shares with almost no one.

The first thing which makes this book so influencing, so dark, and so depressing, is the quality of the characterization. All of the characters are very well written. So much so, that they show an unique glimpse into human psychology. The most fascinating thing for me was following the way Jude sees himself, and the way others see him. It was a cautionary tale about how different a person views themselves, and sometimes, how wrongly, how much more judgmental they are toward their own mistakes, how much more viciously they can judge themselves, than others would judge them.


This Pleasure Needs Pain (Unsympathy)

Jude is the one character that I could not be able to take out of this story and analyze as a separate entity. Jude is the story, in its entire wholeness. And the story is Jude.

This is, quite possibly, the most unsettling character that I’ve ever had the opportunity to read about. It would be easy to just categorize him as depressing. However, the problem is that he’s so much more than that. Actually, as depressing as his story is, Jude is extremely optimistic and full of determination. Throughout the majority of the book I was trying to put together how others describe him, and what he thinks of himself. And it was almost impossible. But by the end of the book, I reached to the conclusion that I’ve never really read about anyone who put up such a struggle against life. To a point where I thought “Not even after all of this, he couldn’t”. But then… we see such stories in real life. I had to remind myself this fact all the time. Even when it was too hard to comprehend. We see the stories of people who simply go beyond. Who defy expectations, borders, standards, everything they had and they were…

I would not be able to say everything I want to about Jude, if I didn’t want to give away any spoilers. But my advise to all of those who would decide this book, would be to think about what they’ve done with that they received from life. That’s all.

The characters that I liked the most, though, were Harold and Willem. I really appreciated how Willem simply was. He was the one character that stayed the same. He, while being a superstar, was just himself, down to earth, gentle, caring, and nice. Sometimes he didn’t even feel like a piece of this world, because he was the most positive, the most optimistic character. He was also the most human one. No character was as well developed than Jude, but Jude ascended throughout the book. He became a deity, rather than a man. Willem, was tangible and earthy, human through and through.

“He now viewed a successful relationship as one in which both people had recognized the best of what the other person had to offer and had chosen to value it as well.”

Harold was the one character that I would like to be like, in A Little Life. He was so dedicated, so… good. Ultimately, the oldest one, he also had the purest heart. He was not naive, just willing to go on. He never left Jude, never gave up. Neither did Willem, but although his role for Jude was much more important, Willem was also not there for a big part of Jude’s life. While Harold, as underrated as he is as a main character in this book, never left.

“Fairness is for happy people, for people who have been lucky enough to have lived a life defined more by certainties than by ambiguities.
Right and wrong, however, are for—well, not unhappy people, maybe, but scarred people; scared people.”

I can’t promise you that this book will be to your liking. You can see how high the rating is, how everyone loves it and yet hates it. But the thing is, this book will resonate within you. And I don’t know how that resonance will feel. You might find yourself thinking “Phew, I had a good life, huh?”, or “These things don’t happen, come on,” or “It’s just a book,” or “I hate this,” or “I hate people,” or “What’s even the point?” And probably all of these would be true. Because A Little Life encompasses the absolute worst in the world… but also, the absolute best.


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