“You see, Jude, in life, sometimes nice things happen to good people. You don’t need to worry—they don’t happen as often as they should. But when they do, it’s up to the good people to just say ‘thank you,’ and move on, and maybe consider that the person who’s doing the nice thing gets a bang out of it as well, and really isn’t in the mood to hear all the reasons that the person for whom he’s done the nice thing doesn’t think he deserves it or isn’t worthy of it.” ― Hanya Yanagihara,
In A Little Life, I sauntered through 720 pages of life – not so short a life, I know. Every page dense with wisdom; words like dew, words like sun, words that lighten your feet, words that leaden them. A Little Life surged, it ebbed, but it never disappointed. Like life, I wanted it to end this minute, I wanted it to go on forever. In between this rashness I pondered life anew, friendship for one, suffering for another, and then redemption, and then pain and then death (Aha!). This is one book that had me flailing through a flurry of emotions so intense, it was like hypnosis. People who loved A Little Life, loved it passionately and those who hate it, do with every fibre of their being and with heavy investment of their emotions. Congratulations Yanagihara, look what you did!
Let me quickly say that this book was the one book I wanted so badly to review. I scribbled feverishly through it like a maniac but now I can’t find the words. I’m so disappointed right now mostly because I know that there is nothing I can say here that will do justice to this book. That’s a shame because this is a book that deserves to be read. I’ve waited for my muse to show up, read other reviews, read section of the books again, yet I feel inadequate for this task. Heck, I should have written a review immediately after the book!
But hear me guys, A Little Life is the real deal. My social media walls are flecked with beautiful tidings from and on the book ever since I read it in early May. If I could, I would buy a thousand copies and have it distributed as Christmas gifts to you all. Nobody should be allowed to die without reading it. Nobody!
So, how did I come about it?
My knowledge of A Little Life came on a wave of rave reviews. Prior to reading it, I was inundated by positive recommendations from my book club, my mailing lists, round-table talks etc. Every four out of five persons who’d read it thought it was awesome. And that was a problem. When a book is awash with too many accolades, it often falls short of my expectation, even if the commentators are the nerdiest book buffs around. It’s always best to err on the side of caution. Because of this, I made no effort to research the writer or on the story itself. I wanted to be rid of all the noise and maintain a certain aloofness from the frenzy. In short, what I sort was a personal taxonomy for a book that has been labelled, cached and exhibited in different literary fora.
But what do I have to lose, really?
So in the beginning of May, I tumbled into the book cautiously.
By the time I was into the 50th page, every sense of apprehension had totally dissolved into absolute immersion.
A Little Life is not that book, and I’m not afraid to add my voice to that rooftop gang of high-praisers going hoarse from exhaustion that this is the book. I’ll risk my voice on this one. It’s that good.
This is a book I will be reading over and over again in years to come. With over 700 pages there is nothing dismissively out of place in this book for me. Every turn of a page was well worth it. If you are given to tears, order your Kleenex and get enough fluid in your system. I assure you you will need it. If you have a steely heart, expect to be hammered, it will leave a dent on you.
A Little Life is a story of four guys who met in college and forged a bond of lasting friendship. These men went on to become successful in their different fields. The story revolves around the lives of Malcolm, Jude, JB and Willem in a swinging arcway, carefully unveiling the backgrounds and quirks of these distinctive characters as much as they are willing to share. One after the other, they came into their own: Malcolm the highly-sought after blue-blooded architect designing plans for high rise buildings and personal homes of the affluent all around the world, JB the tempestuous biracial photographer whose greatest creation would be inspired by his friends, Willem the dashing waiter-actor who would successfully cut his nose among the Hollywood big leaguers and Jude the troubled lawyer and Mathematician. On the pages of Hanya Yanagihara’s book, nothing is forced. These fictitious characters have to give their consents. With the cerebral and reclusive Jude, the experienced reader might be able to catch on early that the juiciest stuff lay with him and that he might be the hardest nut to crack; and the reader would be right. Often impelled by his more vivacious friends, Jude’s evolution as the epicenter of the story came not from any authorial summon but in the patient dig into the past and the careful exposure of vulnerabilities. Jude’s reticence would be aptly caught through the scope of JB’s exhibitionist lens and later on by Willem’s nurturing and unrelenting love.
In this book, Yanagihara cultivates the reader’s curiosity to a fever-pitch crescendo. Mystery (and misery) tickles curiosity and Yanagihara knows this. By slowly (and you can see how difficult this is) peeling off the layers of silence and disguises, what’s left of the story is the rawest grittiest tale that I have read in a long while.
When I have read a book so utterly compelling as this, I never let it go with the characters or the book. I have never been satisfied with a protagonist receding into the sunset, the better if they don’t. A Little Life ended with a drawn curtain with shadows of haunting memories. Ever since May, I have hung on to the author; scouring the internet for her interviews, seeking her out on social media, reading everything she’s ever written, done about everything I could from across the Atlantic to really get to know this woman.
Because this is the thing: Hanya Yanagihara’s characters are so memorable it’s easy to forget that they are creations; that she was there in the room when Jude writhed on the bathroom floor, his wrist bloodied from the razor cuts; that she was there when Willem’s car crashed and Malcolm designed his fabulous works. It’s so much easier to forget the forest for the tress. Yanagihara is a master pupetteer.
If for one thing, I am glad for the fame this book has had because it deserves it. I mean, there are numerous fan clubs of the book on the internet. The other day I saw an alittlelifebook instagram account. There are merchandises customized for the book (I’ve only seen two books that matched this popularity; Harry Potter and The Faults In Our Stars) and I’m so delighted by this. Yanagihara may not know it yet, she’s made me a lifelong fan of hers, and sooner or later I would have her know it.
The younger me was a dilettante. I loved reading simply for the pleasure. Reading was orgasmic. It was my adrenaline shot. I could get off those pages and never feel remorseful over a hangover when I’ve been up all night reading. It’s hard to explain what gives you the kick, but books did it for me. Every book that has thrilled me has made my resolve stronger to be a success as a writer. Even then, my flirting with reading has trailed into something more serious. Now, I look out for style and construction and plots and all that jazz when I read, which can sometimes bog down an enjoyable pastime. Reading A Little Life was a teachable moment that added no foil to the pleasure of the book. This is one book that cannot easily be forgotten.
Memorable quotes from the book:
“What he knew, he knew from books, and books lied, they made things prettier.”
“…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
“Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?”
“Fairness is for happy people, for people who have been lucky enough to have lived a life defined more by certainties than by ambiguities.
Right and wrong, however, are for—well, not unhappy people, maybe, but scarred people; scared people.”
“But these were days of self-fulfillment, where settling for something that was not quite your first choice of a life seemed weak-willed and ignoble. Somewhere, surrendering to what seemed to be your fate had changed from being dignified to being a sign of your own cowardice. There were times when the pressure to achieve happiness felt almost oppressive, as if happiness were something that everyone should and could attain, and that any sort of compromise in its pursuit was somehow your fault.”
A Little Life is a treasure. I learnt about Law, Philosophy, Music, Art, Architecture and places. Yanagihara incorporated all of these in her story in a manner that speaks brilliance. Just posting these lines from the book, I feel a surge of pride. Pride, that I found this one book I wish I could have written . If I do make you read this book eventually, and you need someone to talk to, holler at me. I’d like to have your take.
Meanwhile, have a Merry Christmas!