You know when you finish a book, and you have a sense of catharsis – a feeling that someone has gone inside your body and mind and washed it out with a hose pipe? Yeah, I’m currently at that stage after finishing Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. It was only published in early March, so don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of it before; actually, it was completely by accident that I came across an NPR review of this book whilst reading another review on the same page. l did a little more research and found a few more reviews. I immediately went to NetGalley and requested a review copy. I now am going to buy the hardback version. I need it on my bookshelf!
You know by now that I don’t like to spend too much time on premise as it often can inadvertently contain spoilers, so I’ll give you the briefest overview. A Little Life follows four best friends from when they are roommates at college right through the next 30 or so years. We have Jude, Malcolm, JB and Willem. All have different personalities and ways of handling issues. We explore their lives as they try and deal with revelations, tragedy, happiness, fame, and each other. However, rest assured, that Yanagihara’s novel isn’t just your standard coming of age drama. No. It goes deep into who we are , how much we can endure, and what it means to truly live.
The characters in this novel are truly what make it an exceptional book. Each character is fleshed out sufficiently enough for the reader to believe that they could actually exist and that the dynamics between them are genuine. Even the secondary characters are believable and vital to the story. In the hands of another author, the characters could have easily become caricatures and much eye rolling would have occurred.
The language used in this novel is phenomenal. Having the ability to evoke a sense of horror and shock without being explicit, is a true art form. The language is raw, yet it never becomes explicit just for the sake of shock value. It is believable, poetic and realistic all in one.
I will give fair warning that some of the themes and content are indeed painful. I have read some negative reviews from people, that I believe, went into this novel thinking it was going a Nicholas Sparks type deal, and they were duly slapped in the face. Go into this novel with an open mind, a willingness to recognize that different people react different ways, because Yanagihara does not make it easy for you.
Having said that, if you want to experience a novel that will really make you pay attention and and will present you with the harsh and beautiful realities of life, then do yourself a favour, go to the library, click on the link, go to your local bookshop, and pick up a copy of this truly unique novel.