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.