5* Review: A Little Life – Hanya Yanahgihara

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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I didn’t expect upon beginning A Little Life that weeks after I had finished it I would find it so difficult to let go of.

A harrowing tale which is not for the faint hearted; there are horrifically traumatic sections. Yet if you give yourself fully to this story, there are sentiments that will touch you deeply, creating a tether to your heart you didn’t know was possible.

It’s important to note at this point (as no mention of any of the below is to be found in the book’s synopsis) the following content warnings: sexual abuse and prostitution of a minor, domestic abuse, rape, self injury, attempted suicide, drug use and suicide.

This is an emotionally heavy book, one which in hindsight had I known of the story’s content from the outset I may have chosen not to read at all. But I did, and whilst I was blindsided by so much trauma, I did find solace in such a beautiful representation of acceptance and resilience.

A Little Life centres itself around a group of four friends, that of JB, Malcom, Willem, and Jude as they transition from college roommates, to adulthood and beyond. The author uses the character of Jude to bind the foursome and whilst Jude is undeniably a lynchpin for their friendship, as the years go by it becomes clear that A Little Life is really Jude’s story; the story of his darkness and its effects on those around him.

With a disability he is unwilling to accept and a past that he denies the existence of, Jude’s a complete enigma to even his closest friends. Despite his iron clad will to keep his past trauma and present day struggles under wraps, the unequivocal acceptance by his friends for exactly who he is, in the there and now, mystery and all, begins to break down even the most solid of Jude’s barriers.

As the years progress and the foursome’s chosen careers see them spend more time apart, the acceptance shown by Jude’s friends help him to painstakingly open himself up to the possibility of more meaningful relationships in all aspects of his life. And whilst love is something Jude has never believed himself deserving of, there’s someone who has always loved him in one form or another; but will even the deepest love be enough to chase away the demons that continue to haunt Jude’s every moment.

A Little Life is a tale about the darker side of reality, it is unapologetic in its raw depiction of trauma and its resulting impact. But it’s also a moving portrayal of the power of friendship, and mankind’s capacity for compassion and kindness in even the most dire circumstances.

Goodreads has 66,000+ reviews for this book, of which many are polar opposites in their opinions. Some may find this story depressing, hard to swallow, or graphic for the sake of it. Whilst others, like me, may find solace in its truthfulness, as if parts of the book were written solely just for you to connect with. Either way A Little Life is sure to evoke emotions you weren’t prepared for. This is a book that will break your spirit only to rebuild your soul from a new perspective. It is a journey of beautiful devastation like nothing I’ve read before.

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