My friend Abu Sufian recommended me A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara for the feels. He got me at ‘feels’.
When I hefted the book – yes, hefted – I was daunted by the size of the tome. Also, there was the issue of it being over 700 pages long. I generally stay away from adult literary fiction and concentrate on YA fiction instead, but, you know, I was craving for the feels.
A Little Life started off slow, and the book and I had plenty of false starts. I estimated that it would take a month (or more) to finish reading it.
Then something changed.
The people in the book came to life. Jude and Willem and Malcolm and JB and the people around them came to life. Jude and Willem became so compelling that the book became unputdownable. It’s been almost a month since I finished reading A Little Life (took me 1 week instead of 4), but I still think of them, Jude and Willem. Most of all, Jude.
Miss Yanagihara has a way with words. None of them, not one in the over 700 pages of words, has been squandered. The emotional punches kept getting harder and harder, I was battered by the time I reached the last sentence. The four main characters each have their personalities, strengths and flaws. And I’ll be upfront that I don’t like JB all that much, but I love the paintings he makes of Jude and Willem.
Yes, I know there are no actual paintings. The author’s THAT good.
I love how deliberate she is with her points of views. Even though she uses third person perspective (except when Harold narrates, and that’s in first person), the characteristics of that particular perspective shine through. When the story is told in Willem’s, Malcolm’s and JB’s perspectives, their personalities, their individualities, are apparent. When it is told in Jude’s perspective, though, it’s like he tries to make his own existence as small as possible. He doesn’t even use his name, and we only know it’s his perspective because other characters use his name in dialogs. Even then, it’s kept to a bare minimum.
A Little Life is a thoroughly beautiful and tragic story. However.
I have qualms. Yes, it is obvious that Jude’s life is a series of tragedy, and even though I keep yearning to hug him and tell him everything will be all right (he’ll just cower away and not let me touch him, but still), the tragedies keep piling up that by ¾ of the book, it felt like these tragedies are put there more to affect the readers than to make Jude who he is. It becomes melodramatic the deeper the story gets; I won’t hesitate to say that my suspension of disbelief wavered more than once.
The other thing is that even though this book spans over thirty years, the characters don’t really grow older. Age becomes nothing but numbers. Age advances the story, yes, but the people in the book stay essentially the same. The only thing that progresses is Jude’s spine problem and its complications. Yes, Andy has children and they grow up, but only in passing. Physical changes, maturity, death…these are not present. It’s as if all the people around Jude hang on and resist change just to provide a constant for him. But resist change for over 30 years?
Other than the issues mentioned above, I’ll say, “Wow. This book is bloody brilliant. If only I have half Hanya Yanagihara’s skills.”
I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I highly recommend it for the feels.
And Jude, wherever you are, I’m sorry for everything that has happened to you. May fate treat you much kinder in your next life.