Review: A Little Life

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Rating: 5 out of 5.

WARNING: Here there be spoilers

My god. What a story, what a telling.

A Little Life follows four college friends and roommates – JB, Willem, Malcolm, and Jude – as they navigate their lives and relationships in New York City. The story centers on Jude St. Francis, whose tragic and mysterious past is unknown to his friends and is revealed throughout the book in a piecemeal fashion to the readers.

I knew going in that this story would be emotionally taxing and that it wouldn’t have a happy ending, both of which being typical of literary fiction. But I wasn’t prepared for how attached I’d become to Jude and Willem (and, to a lesser extent, the remainder of the cast of characters), and how profoundly their respective deaths would resonate with me.

A Little Life is a wonderful, sprawling, and wandering novel. It touches on quite a few triggers (see below), some more comprehensively than others. I’ve read reviews of this book that equate it to misery porn, but I didn’t find anything to be particularly gratuitous, as I did with Outlander and The Pillars of the Earth (what is it about long books?). Jude’s story was framed in extremes, but the fact remains that it’s an excellent commentary on the far-reaching effects of sexual abuse, regardless of how extreme the assault.

It’s also a commentary on the ripple effects of our own little lives, how each action we take, each decision we make, ripples throughout the little lives of others.

If you haven’t read A Little Life yet, I highly recommend it. A word of warning – check the triggers before you read.

This book contains: Graphic sexual abuse, child exploitation and prostitution, domestic violence, general assault, able-ism, self-harm, kidnapping, and grooming and sex abuse of minors within the Catholic Church.

Dates read: January 16-25, 2022

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