Today I’d like to tell you about A Little Life, a novel by Hanya Yanagihara. I had heard a lot about this novel: it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015 and for the Bailey Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016. Of course Booktube was all about this novel a few months ago, with reviews from people who absolutely loved it and reviews from people who hated it. This was very intriguing, and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about, so I had got this novel a few months ago, and I finally started reading it a few weeks ago – who said I was late?
Of course, because of everything I had heard about this novel, I already had some ideas/prejudices about it before reading it. I was sure I would love it because it is totally my style of book: a dark and minimalist plot focusing on a few characters with a difficult past. It sounded great. In the end, I enjoyed reading it but don’t consider it’s a book that gave me a lot and that everyone should read. Hopefully this article will give you a better idea about whether this novel would be for you or not (warning: it is a modest 700 hundred pages novel for the paperback version).
A Little Life is the story of four friends living in New York City. In the beginning of the novel, Jude, Willem, Malcom and JB have just moved to New York City. They are ambitious young graduates: Jude wants to get a career in law, Malcolm wants to be an architect, JB dreams of becoming a famous artist and Willem hopes to become a famous actor – yes, you get it, they all want to be famous. The rest of the novel follows the path of these four characters (the evolution of their professional life, friendship and life in general) while focusing mostly on Jude, whose tragic past is also explored throughout the book. A Little Life is actually Jude’s life. Except that it is not a little life, it is a dark and miserable life which has been ruined by a traumatic childhood.
Yes, the plot is simple. This could all work very well, but it doesn’t quite work for me. The main reason why I kept reading this book and didn’t become bored is that even if it is simple, the plot is well built. I wanted to read more to understand what happened to Jude in the past and what would happen to him. The author manages to leave some clues that act like suspense triggers: you know big stuff are coming, and you want to know more. On the other hand, I found this novel extremely superficial. In 700 pages, the author didn’t manage to make me like or even understand her characters. First of all, Jude is definitely the main character of the novel. His three best friends are secondary characters who are roughly sketched. They felt more like props used to make the setting believable and beautiful than real characters to me, and that’s a shame. To add to the caricature, all these characters seemed way too successful and rich for me to care about them. So yes, Jude is the only character who has some psychological depth in the novel (OK, Jude and another character, Harold, who is Jude’s mentor).
What about Jude, then? Well, even if his story is terrible – basically this book is about taking a character and making the worst things happen to him from the beginning to the end of his life – and the author really tries to make you understand why he acts as he does and how his past affected him, I didn’t sympathize with him a single second. It’s probably because his life and his character seem too out of proportion to be believable? Or because you feel like the author is really trying very hard to make you cry? In any case, it seemed a bit fake to me and, as a result, I felt really detached to this novel. As mentioned, the only thing that kept me going is a curiosity that the author definitely managed to arouse. To be honest, this curiosity felt a bit unhealthy sometimes, as I was only waiting for horrible things to happen to Jude – because you understand, very quickly, that this novel will be about all the misfortunes of its main character.
To conclude, yes this book entertained me but no, it didn’t move me at all and I don’t think it depicts so accurately what it tries to depict. It was not poorly written but it lacked depth, authenticity and heart, in my opinion.
Guys, if you’ve read it, please let me know what you thought about it. Also, if you have not, are you planning to read it?
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Published by Picador, 2016 (for this paperback edition)