Thursday, 20 August 2015

A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara

Before I begin this review, I think it is sensible to provide a little bit of a warning:

*This book contains sensitive themes including physical, sexual, substance and child abuse, as well as graphic descriptions of self harm. It is probably best to avoid this book if you are at all triggered by or sensitive to any of the above themes. It is not a young adult read. 'A Little Life' does however deal with these in a respectful and understanding manner*

Every now and then, you happen upon a book that is so beautiful, well written and heartbreaking that it becomes difficult to tell real life events from those that occur within the pages. The characters become as well-known as friends you might visit for a coffee and you feel much older, and more tired, than you actually are. A Little Life is one of those books.

In general I am not normally one to jump at the prospect of a new release, but after reading a few incredible reviews on Goodreads, I was perhaps a little too easily persuaded to splash out and ship this book from the USA before it's UK release (13th August 2015). I was tempted to begin reading it at once, but something told me to wait it out, it seemed to be the sort of novel where the time and place you read  it becomes as important as the reading itself.

A Little Life follows four friends when they move to New York after they graduate from college. We follow these characters from their early 20s, to around their mid 50s, seeing their careers develop and flourish, as well as experiencing their heartbreaking loves and losses. We learn early on that something horrific has happened to one of these friends, Jude St Francis, in early childhood,something which continues to not only play a huge role in his life, but also in the lives of his friends.

The time frame of this books is interesting. It is obvious that it is set in the 21st century, or perhaps the late 20th century because of the technology etc. that the characters use. However, beyond that it is almost impossible to pinpoint exact years it takes place. Yanagihara does however suggest that some of the novel takes place in the future. Rather than describing futuristic cars for example, she simply alludes to attitudes which unfortunately not everyone holds at the moment. For example, the homosexual relationships in the novel are described as completely normal, with the same attitude as a straight relationship might be seen today, rather than being seen as sightly unusual, or described carefully as they are in a lot of modern fiction, and by today's media. One quote which stood out to me on this topic was:

"He had come of age in a time where identity politics were your very identity"

and is something that I think could be attributed to the present day.

In my opinion, the thing that made this novel so powerful was the characterisation. No character was perfect, and their flaws were so human that it was impossible not to relate to them at some points. Even though some of the actions they take are hurtful, often damaging and can leave you frustrated, it is in the same way you would become frustrated with a real person. Everything is so well fleshed out, the characters thought processes can almost be heard, and you can often see yourself reacting in exactly the same way as them. Because of this, becoming engrossed in the novel is easy.

In terms of the plot, Yanagihara does not reveal anything too early, or too late. While on one hand we are left eager to read more, it is not a 'page turner' allowing the beautiful prose to be appreciated. Yanagihara has a way of writing that does not simply engage, but engrosses, immersing the reader in the book to the level that they feel slightly disoriented when they surface.

Ending such a book seems like a huge challenge, and I have to say that I was slightly concerned that the final pages would be a bit of a disappointment. However, as with the rest of the novel, Yanagihara executes the end perfectly, in fact, any other way of it finishing would not seem right.

I strongly recommend you read this book. It is an investment in terms of both money as a new publication, and time, but the rewards you gain from reading it are most definitely worth it. I can assure you, you will not be the same person at the end as you were at the start.

'A Little Life' is nominated for the Man Booker Prize 2015. 


  1. This sounds very good, I'm going to read it on the kindle and recommend it to my book group when it comes out in paperback.

  2. […] have already read and reviewed ‘A Little Life’, but look forward to reading more of the […]

  3. […] to be the first book I read from the officially announced  Man Booker 2015 shortlist (I read ‘A Little Life’ before its nomination was announced) but something drew me to […]


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