“A Little Life”by Hanya Yanagihara | Book Review

A Little Life
Written by Hanya Yanagihara 
Published by Doubleday
Image by Victo Ngai, from his Tumblr.

Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.”

I knew I was going to cry, but for some reason I thought it was a good idea to take this massive book with me to university. I am a fool. THIS BOOK IS FILLED WITH TRIGGERS, please be careful when reading. 

This book follows four friends, Malcolm, Willem, JB, and Jude, after they have graduated from college, and the struggles they face as distinct individuals, in various fields, with differing backgrounds. We get an exploration of , not only their characters during their beginnings, but of their relationships to each other, themselves, and how their past will forever haunt them. However, the focus of the story lies on Willem and Jude’s friendship, and how they see one another in each other to a certain degree. It is a story that surrounds itself with pain from every single corner of the world, from almost every tragedy that can occur to a human to the next. There is nothing but pain to be found here, and one must decide whether it is fair or not. 

You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.

The best part of the novel comes from the development of the main friendship. In many, many pages, we are shown the dynamics of friendship, how they are created and how they are destroyed. It follows their lives from the point of view a friendship can bring, which is quite different to familial connection. Oftentimes, friends are those that see us at our most vulnerable, they observe us when we don’t want our other loved ones to have to see us down, if we have loved ones. The whole “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” thing is a main part of the story. Did any of you get this vibe? 

Ethics and morals do, in reality, have a place in law—although not in jurisprudence. It is morals that help us make the laws, but morals do not help us apply them.”

My main issue with this novel comes from the immense amount of horrendous things that happen to the characters (mainly Jude, just Jude really). The author referred to her characters as a blank canvas, in which anyone can see themselves, but is it too big a canvas? At the beginning of the novel, and throughout the middle, poor Jude was a sufferer of so much, that by the semi-end of the novel, and the end as well, when more horrendous things began to happen, it became monotonous. I was no longer surprised by anything that happened to him, I was expecting it. It felt like I was reading a X-Men comic, where the author was being more vague with the issues being presented than they should be.

It is not for everyone, and even if you do not like it, it is hard for many to not, at least, appreciate it. 

★★★★★

What he knew, he knew from books, and books lied, they made things prettier.” It’s funny because this book did not provide me with any prettiness, it filled me with dread and sadness. It was wonderful. 

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