Five words from the blurb: college, friendship, decades, New York, trauma
A Little Life is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. The evolving relationship between four college friends over several decades sounds like nothing special, but Yanagihara manages to get under their skin in a way few writers can. I was totally engrossed in their story, unable to stop thinking about them – even long after I’d turned the final page.
A Little Life deals with many difficult subjects – including paedophilia, physical abuse and suicide. Some people will find it too disturbing to read the more graphic scenes, but I thought it was important they were included. The way these events rippled through the lives of everyone, no matter how indirectly they were involved, was skilfully shown and I especially liked the way mental health and the pursuit of happiness was explored:
The length of the book (700+ pages) will be daunting for some, but I loved the detail of this novel. It meant I could picture every aspect of their lives; imagine myself visiting their houses and be able to predict how they’d react to different scenarios. It’s rare to discover a book where a cast of characters are developed to this extent; to witness the strength of friendship and to investigate how it responds to the strains of life.
I have to admit that I wasn’t enthralled by the first 200 pages. The quality of the writing was outstanding, but I disliked the way the book switched between each of the men – it threw me out of the story and I felt as though I was having to start a new book on beginning each chapter. Luckily, about a quarter of the way through the book, everything came together and I remained hooked for the rest of the novel.
I loved Yanagihara’s debut, The People in the Trees, but A Little Life is even better. It has a much simpler plot, but the characters have more depth. It’s still well worth reading both books, but it is wonderful to see a writer develop and create something with the potential to become a classic.
A Little Life is an outstanding novel. It will probably make you cry but, worst of all, it will make all the other books you try for months afterwards feel insignificant.