In September I started my first buddy read with my good friend Zoë! We chose A LITTLE LIFE, written by Hanya Yanagihara. I am so glad we decided to read this one together. A LITTLE LIFE is an emotionally tough book. Reading it together made that we could talk about our feelings and share our tears.
Yes, I cried. Not as much as I had expected. I was warned that this book would made me shed a lot of tears, so that warning might have helped to keep the crying under control. However, that doesn't mean it was less emotionally heavy.
It took us two months to read A LITTLE LIFE. My copy was 750 pages long, so it's a big one. The thickness of the book made reading even more difficult. Perhaps that was a conscious decision to increase the emotional impact.
It is so hard to summarize this story so I cheated and took the synopsis from Goodreads:
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.
Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever. ------------------------------
The very first thing that impressed me - apart from the size of the book - is the personal and emotional depth of the characters. Each character has a unique personality - including the secondary characters - and the author does not deviate from that. The characters' personalities are so different from each other, and yet they are always there for each other day and night. You notice from the start that whatever happens, the friends will continue to play a major role in each other's lives. They all carry a past that influences their actions and thinking the rest of their lives. Jude experiences the greatest and heaviest of these influences. He struggles to find a goal to live, to find joy in life. He knows ups, but mostly downs. And he drags you as a reader down with him. I have never read a book that affected my mood so much, that actually disgusted me and made me dissappointed in humanity, or the lack of it. Every time you think it can't get worse, it gets worse. When I reached pages 600 or so I wanted to finish this book as soon as possible. Not because I was tired of the story, but because the emotional impact became too great.
The author changes perspective between four characters: Jude, Willem (Jude's best friend), Harrold (a father figure to Jude) and BJ (a college friend). However, the presence of the author remains tangible. She sometimes already reveals a bad omen that makes you read on anxiously. The main character in the chapter isn't always revealed immediately. This creates a certain feeling of curiosity and tension, but also a sense of involvement when you as a reader fits the puzzle pieces together.
Time jumps are made continuously. This ensures that there is a mystery lurking around the life stories of the characters. But this also had the consequence that I always imagined the characters in their twenties, as they were at the beginning of the book, even when they were already 50 years old.
I would have loved to read more about JB. In the beginning the author focuses on him and the reader gets interested in him, but that focus is quickly gone. On the other hand, the story was no less good with the limited presence of JB. It is just the focus at the beginning of the story that made me miss him sometimes. But despite these two minor flaws (in my opinion), I rate A LITTLE LIFE five stars. It has become one of my favorite books of all time, even though I am sure I will never reread this story. I have never read a similar book, and I don't think I will read one again. A LITTLE LIFE touches your soul and keeps you thinking about it for days, even weeks.
Have you read A LITTE LIFE and want to chat about it? Just comment on this post or DM on Instagram. ♡