A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
It’s been a while since my last post and I actually finished reading this book 3 weeks ago – shock. What with going on holiday, getting engaged and then coming back to the endless emails at work the past few weeks have been a huge whirlwind. But I am happy to report I kept thinking about A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara on and off since I finished the last page.
A Little Life (an ironic title by the way) is one of my favourite kinds of books, it weaves the lives of four characters and their love through over a forty year period. The book predominately focuses on Jude, a man who has endured more than most in his early years. Then there’s Willem, a successful actor and all round nice guy, JB a flamboyant and selfish artist and Malcolm a straight laced architect. All four boys meet at college and became extremely close but inevitably as life goes on their lives go in separate directions albeit they try to keep in contact as much as possible.
If you’re looking for a nice little tale this ain’t it. From the off we know that Jude is extremely sensitive and rather reserved and half way through the book we learn why. Given up for adoption as a child Jude finds himself in a convent and is regularly beaten for infinite things. One leader, Father Luke, takes a particular liking to Jude and promises him he can break free of his current life. With no reason to doubt him Jude runs away with Father Luke who shockingly is a pedophile and not only has sex with Jude but pimps Jude out to men and even gangs.
After months of promising Jude that once he’s earned enough to build a house in the forest the sex can stop, the police catch up with them but before they do Father Luke hangs himself in the bathroom of the motel in which they are staying. Jude was not even a teenager. From here he’s taken to a boarding school where again he’s abused, once he’s run away from there he hitchhikes lifts from truck drivers to the middle of nowhere again being abused in the process as he knows no different. The final straw is when he’s taken in by a rather odd psychologist sure enough to the cycle starts again and Jude becomes all he’s ever known. But his ordeal doesn’t stop until the crazy psychologist runs him over, causing physical damage that lasts a lifetime.
Miraculously he makes it to college and goes on to be one of the most successful lawyers in New York. Working often all day and night, this becomes Jude’s way of not thinking about his past as well as his constant self-harming which he’s often taken too far resulting in neat suicide.
Jude issurrounded by a network of people including his adoptive parents Harold and Julia, Jude’s former college lecturer, Malcolm, intermittently JB, Andy his physio, a constant companion and of course Willem. But Jude even finds it hard to trust them.
Jude begins a relationship with Willem late into their friendship which is wonderfully described with such tenderness and compassion but Jude’s past rears its head again and is unable to conduct the physical side of their relationship.
But happiness in Jude’s life doesn’t last for long. Willem, along with Malcolm and his wife Sophie are killed in a car crash which plunges Jude into despair. He manages to get through each day by knowing he’s surrounded by Willem’s things and wills himself to live as he knows that’s what Willem would have wanted.
In the last section of the book it opens from Harold’s perspective and I assumed he was talking about Willem’s death, who he also saw as a son, he’s in fact taking about Jude. Jude inevitably gets what he wants which is to be out of this world.
Given the content of the book, it’s written with such tenderness and thought. Sadly Jude cannot seem to see further than his past and he can’t reciprocate the love his strong network of supporters give him. I would even go as far as saying this is the most beautifully written book I have read in years. I urge everyone to read it.