‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara will break your heart into a million pieces and, as theatrical and clichéd as it may sound, you will feel like life will never be the same again. There is no way these characters are leaving you. They will inhabit every possible space in your head and whenever someone says you look a little lost, it will be probably because you are thinking of them, wistfully, and brimming with love.
Ever since I finished it a few days ago, I’ve recommended it to most of my friends, asked my husband to read it at least twice a day, and picked it up numerous times just to hold it and stroke the pages. This, I know, makes me sound like a lunatic, but Yanagihara has really messed with my head.
The book had been on my bookshelf for over four years. Meanwhile, I read everything there was being written about it, watched booktubers bawling their eyes out while reading it (check out paperbackdreams on YouTube), and low-key stalked Yanagihara on social media to try and find out just how her brain functions. Recently, a friend/reader/writer I admire (find her @15n3quarters on Instagram) mentioned Hanya Yanagihara as her favorite author and I finally dusted the book—shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015—off my bookshelf.
A Little Life is about four friends—Jude, Willem, Malcolm, and JB—who move to New York after college. They are broke and clueless but all are ambitious and have one another for support. The story revolves around how their lives and friendships change over the years. However, for the most part, it’s about Jude who goes on to become a successful lawyer but is traumatized by his abusive past.
There are also other characters like Harold and Julia, Andy, and Richard whose backstories we never get to know much. Though the book isn’t essentially about them, Yanagihara hasn’t crafted characters without making them imperative to the narrative. So they too end up taking up considerable mind-space once you finish the book. It’s not often that a book has had this kind of effect on me. But A Little Life had me thinking about its villains as well and contemplating why they did what they did.
At 700-odd pages, the masterpiece is a long read. But the character-driven book, typeset in a font that’s not really friendly to the eyes, will consume you, and when you get to the end, you will want to hug the book and sob your heart out. Then, randomly flipping the pages, you will hunt for clues you might have missed, and wish you could have saved at least one character, and wonder how that might have changed things for all of them. This is where I am at. And this is where I will probably be for the rest of eternity.
If all that I have said here sounds melodramatic then read A Little Life and I’m sure you’ll see where I’m coming from.