A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published by Doubleday
So I FINALLY read this doorstopper of a novel, the one that everyone has talked up and cried over and absolutely loved. Interestingly enough, two of my bookish friends had polar opposite reactions to the novel – one gave it one star, the other gave it five stars.
So what did I think? Strangely, I’m somewhere in the middle. I can see why people love this novel. The writing is perfection. The way that Yanagihara gets to the heart and soul of her characters and creates these fully-realized humans that you wish would jump out of the page and into your life is fantastic. The way she gets the reader to follow along with these people’s lives over the course of so many years is captivating and not at all boring (while I expected to be bored at some point during these 700 pages, I never was, not for one second).
Here’s my issue. I absolutely loved getting to know all four main characters: Jude, J.B., Malcolm, and Willem. I loved them and hated them throughout the book for many reasons but ultimately I felt close to each of them and each one stayed in my heart long after I finished the book. But. SO MUCH TIME is spent on Jude that it became obnoxious, ridiculous, and frankly annoying. It is quite clear early on in the novel that Jude has suffered in his past, there has probably been some kind of abuse, and he has no relationship with any family or individuals from before he met the other three guys at the start of their freshman year of college. It is obvious that at some point in the book, it will be revealed to the reader what exactly happened to him and why he has no family or friendships from before college. The slow reveal of his past didn’t bother me. The horrific nature of his abuse, once it’s finally spelled out for the reader, was insanely bad but the fact that it was in the book didn’t bother me. What bothered me is that I didn’t find the other three guys’ stories less interesting than Jude’s, yet all I did was read about Jude for five hundred of the seven hundred pages. I wanted to read about all four of them. Every time I got a glimpse at the lives of one of the other three, it was like a hidden gem that I had to savor knowing it would soon be over and it would be back to Jude’s sad story and Jude’s sad life and Jude’s sad attitude of it would be easier for everyone if he were just dead.
So. I can appreciate A Little Life. But I did not love it, and I’m not even sure I liked it. I believe in Yanagihara as a writer, so I’m excited to see what she does next. But I think she majorly missed the boat with this novel and it could have been so much better.
11 thoughts on “A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara”
I’ve seen all those mixed reviews so I’ve kind avoided this one. I think maybe I made the right decision by skipping it.
Yeah I would agree to just skip it. It’s quite a challenge to get through, so if you’re on the fence I’d err on the side of no thanks. 🙂
I loved this one but can understand your feelings about it. It’s amazing how different books affect different people so much.
I agree! I know so many who loved it and others who absolutely hated it. I see the good but for me it just didn’t work overall.
Hahahah, yeah, I was one of the one-star people, in the end. The writing was so amazing, and I want to love everything Hanya Yanigahara writes because I loved her debut novel so much, but I felt really, really frustrated NOT just with the overemphasis on Jude — although also that — but with the way Yanigahara appears to want to depict child sexual abuse, and then does it in this really sensationalistic way, almost to the point of voyeurism. It made me really angry. Depictions of child sexual abuse survivors are already rare, and to write this kind of portrayal felt very irresponsible. 😡
I completely agree with you. I also loved her first novel and her writing is perfection. I can’t figure out why she wrote about his abuse in the way that she did – emotional manipulation perhaps? To create an “OMG AMAZING” novel? I think she could have done that so much more successfully by paring down the Jude stuff and being more graceful about the depiction of what he suffered. I completely understand the reason you gave it one star but ultimately I came down more middle of the road.
I think you make a good point. It’s frustrating that Yanagihara develops all of the characters so completely, but we don’t get to enjoy more of their stories.
It was certainly interesting to see such passionate conversation and a big divide between readers about this one!
I’d like to try it to see how many stars I’d give it. Looks like an intense read.
I loved loved loved this novel. While yes, I do understand the frustration about the focus on Jude, that essentially IS what the novel is about. The novel focuses around four friends who are held together by their love/concern of Jude. It is a very real and honest look at the struggles many people face during their lifetime. Currently reading it for the 2nd time. 5 stars in my book.
I will try it because of the writing.
I am old fashioned and like good old local bookstores. There is something endearing in the process of choosing the right book in the store or library. But during the corona quarantine I found this online store https://bit.ly/2SvJw4w Maybe someone would find it useful too.