Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara


Publisher: Doubleday
Release date: March 10, 2015
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0385539258
Pages: 720
Goodreads || Book Depository

When four classmates 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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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.

In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.


5 stars

A Little Life is one of the books on the Man Booker Prize longlist for 2015 (the shortlist will be announced on September 15, and the winner will be revealed on October 13). I picked up this book back in June because I heard Max from WellDoneBooks on Youtube rave about it (and I pretty much buy whatever Max raves about). When it was announced as part of the Man Booker longlist at the end of July, I knew I had to read it.

This book is a masterpiece. I haven’t read any of the other longlist titles yet, but I think A Little Life has a great chance of winning. This book is honest, gripping, haunting, heartbreaking and it made me ugly-cry so many times as I was reading it. I didn’t think I could survive so many stabs to the heart. Even when I think about it now, I tear up a little. I think A Little Life is absolutely brilliant and is definitely one of my top three favourite books of all time.

Having said that, I don’t think I can recommend this book to everyone. A Little Life is very graphic and contains almost every kind of abuse you can think of. It has rape, sexual abuse, drug abuse, emotional abuse, self-harm, suicide, etc. So I think you need to consider carefully if you’ll be able to handle everything that is presented. I don’t really like putting age labels/ratings on books because I think books are for everyone who is mature enough to handle the content. But I think A Little Life is more suited for an older and more mature audience. It’s definitely a novel that upset me a lot and I had to keep putting it down so that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed.

A Little Life is very much a book about the ordinary moments in life and how everything that happens to us, no matter how big or small, will have an impact on who we are.

It was precisely these scenes he missed the most from his own life with Willem, the forgettable, in-between moments in which nothing seemed to be happening but whose absence was singularly unfillable.

This book follows four friends from their college years up until their 50s. We see moments in each of their lives that have defined who they are as people and how they fit in with those around them. Jude, our enigmatic lawyer, is the main character of the book. Most of the book is spent revealing all of the traumatic events in his past that have shaped him into the person he is today, but we also get to see life from the perspective of other characters too. The novel follows a mostly linear timeline, but we do see some jumping back and forth in time, especially when we’re finding out about Jude’s past.

This is a book about all the different sides of humanity, as well as friendship/companionship, and the transformative nature of it. There are so many beautiful friendships and relationships in this book, and I loved being able to see the effect one person can have on another. I was really deeply moved by how having a person there for you is able to make the world feel less big and life feel more bearable. I particularly enjoyed the friendship between Willem and Jude. It’s one of the most beautiful relationships I have ever read about (I would call it a bromance but I think that cheapens it a little bit). The support and encouragement that Willem provides for Jude, and Jude in return, made my heart ache.

Wasn’t it a miracle to have survived the unsurvivable? Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?

Hanya Yanagihara did a great job of communicating all of her characters’ thoughts and insecurities. These are definitely some of the most real characters I’ve ever read. I felt like I was going through all of their experiences with them, and living their lives with them. I felt all of their pain, frustrations and uncertainties. Most of all, I appreciated that we were able to see the flaws of each character coming through in their thoughts and how imperfect they were. These characters really stuck with me and followed me around. I thought about them all the time, even when I wasn’t reading the book. It was all I thought about during the two weeks I spent reading it. The author definitely perfectly captured human nature and all of its flaws.

I thought the writing style and indirect discourse used was especially effective in making the events in the book feel like real life and real things happening to real people. The writing is complex and layered, but not flowery or hard to understand. A Little Life contains very little dialogue and is a beast of a book, but I never found it to be boring, dense or long. I was so invested in the characters and their lives that I just wanted to read more about them. The book is also split into 6 sections (plus an additional epilogue-like section at the end), with 3 chapters in each section, so I never felt like the book was never-ending. There were 3 random chapters that were written in second person, from one character to another, which I found a little bit strange because the rest of the book was in third person. But it wasn’t too big of an issue for me.

I also really liked how realistically Yanagihara was able to portray depression. The book shows that anyone can suffer from depression, even those who appear to be put together and successful in life. It highlights the importance of seeking help and not dealing with everything yourself. The novel captures thoughts about living and dying so well.

Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it. We all cling to it; we all search for something to give us solace.

This is by no means a book without flaws. But I enjoyed it so much and connected with it so much that I can forgive them all. I’m going to leave now so that I can go have a cry.

If you decide to read this book, let me know and I will be there to give you warm hugs. The book will make you feel sad and lonely but you’re not alone in this!


18 thoughts on “Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

  1. aentee @ read at midnight says:

    I heard of this one via Carolyn’s blog and she loved it as well, so I trust you both that this is great on the character and relationship front. The pretty boy and his expression on the cover would have scared me off otherwise. Maybe when I feel like embarking on a meatier read, I will check this out 😀 I love books that follow characters through a lifetime!


  2. cwreads says:

    Yaaas finally, I’ve been looking forward to this review since you started reading it!

    This sounds like the sort of book that will destroy me and leave me lying on the floor – in other words, sounds like my sort of book. My only apprehension is the presence of a lot of abuse and that stuff? I mean, I can handle it, but if I read it, I think I’ll take measures to look after myself too.

    I love books with earnest portrayals of human nature. Show the sides that some authors are too scared or too wary to portray.

    Ughhh but it’s so long, and long books scare me. The last giant I read was Crime and Punishment and that took me months, haha! But ok. I will read this. BUT FIRST RUROUNI KENSHIN.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      Definitely let me know if you need to discuss. It’s brutal and graphic but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. It was more the emotion and consequences of what happened that really got to me. There are some things that are also implied earlier, so when we do find out what happened, it wasn’t a huge shock.

      It’s definitely long and scary. Very little dialogue or paragraph breaks. But it didn’t take me as long as I thought it would. Plus, depending on how well you handle it, you might have to put it down and read something more light-hearted in between. My only problem was that the book was so heavy it made my arms sore HAHAHA.


      • cwreads says:

        I will! You’ll be my go-to. 😀

        I see. I think I can get a feeling of what I can expect. Bu I love books like that. It’ll be hard book to recommend to my non-bookish friends, as it’s quite big but HEY I shall try.

        LOL reading and weight-lifting – nice!!


  3. Summer @ Xingsings says:

    Ah gosh, I first saw this on Carolyn’s blog (A Hundred Thousand Stories) a couple of weeks ago. This was her first 5 star read of the year so I knew it had to be good. Now I really want to read it after reading your review. Books that capture realism and have a deep message really intrigues me. Also, I haven’t read any books from the longlist either, so this one seems like an exciting challenge for that reason alone. But it’s so long, I probably will have to start it at the end of this year or the beginning of next. I’m booked with books. 😉 (I need to stop buying so many books and requesting titles on Netgalley…)


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