I first heard of Hanya Yanagihara’s novel “A Little Life” from an actor’s Instagram page, and after finally getting the chance to read it, I have never felt more changed by a work of fiction.
“A Little Life” follows four college friends as they do their best navigating through everything the world throws at them. Malcolm is a level-headed architect; JB is an immature artist; Willem is an up-and-coming actor; and Jude is a heartfelt lawyer. The novel takes you through their entire lives, throwing you into their toils in a heartbreakingly real way.
The 720-page epic addresses many important themes, while never backing down in the face of the dark subject matter it presents. Issues tackled include the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, abuse, disease, drug and alcohol addiction and sex.
It is difficult not to get wrapped up in the characters’ stories and have a great amount of empathy for them. Yanagihara uses beautiful prose and words that make you feel the same emotions that the characters do.
Of course, due to the subject matter and sometimes disturbing graphic details, breaks tend to be necessary as you make your way through the novel. It also feels beneficial to take your time, so that everything can be absorbed and remembered long after you have finished reading.
Something that Yanagihara does well is building you up for a handful of pages and giving you hope, and not long after, she will present something so tragic that you are dropped back to the ground. It is just one factor that makes “A Little Life” the most honest fictional work I have ever read.
The novel not only seeks to entertain, but also ensures that readers are changed through each page. This may help readers better understand their existence and the meaning of being human.
I can happily say that—even though I found myself crying and struggling to continue reading many times—I finished the novel as a new person with a better outlook and comprehension of life.
The momentum with which this novel moves, as well as the unrelenting content and beautiful prose on every page, reinforces the label this novel has as “required reading.” It has the ability to eventually become a modern-day classic that will be read everywhere.
“A Little Life,” while heartbreaking and dense, is honest and optimistically life-altering. Everyone with the capacity to endure its hardships and vastness should pick it up. What Yanagihara has written, though, is not something that should be devoured in one sitting; rather, time should be taken to traverse the years and experiences of Jude, Willem, JB and Malcolm.