By Hanya Yanagihara
Doubleday (March 10, 2015)
Reviewed by Billie Hinton
Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life introduces the reader to what seems at first an ensemble cast of characters: JB, Willem, Malcolm, and Jude, four students who meet in college and remain friends far beyond that time of their lives. As we read on, however, we learn that the main character is Jude St. Francis. The book as a whole is layered with many points of view and memories that construct his life story.
This is a long novel and a big book, and by big I mean that is has a huge impact that builds. It’s only at the end that the impact of the novel is apparent. Yanagihara does an amazing job assembling a huge, layered collage of impressions, experiences, and anecdotes that gradually tell the secrets we have become almost afraid to know.
The book is intense and detailed if not quite graphic in its portrayal of sexual abuse, physical violence, and cutting. I’ll be honest. I am a psychotherapist with many years of experience working with some of the worst sexual abuse cases out there. This was a hard read for me.
What I find most remarkable about this novel is the degree to which I became involved with Yanagihara’s characters, particularly Jude. While at times I felt that one more terrible thing was the one that would cause this house of cards to tumble down, Yanagihara’s use of the ensemble cast to tell her protagonist’s life story is both masterful and effective.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that among the difficult reading is epiphany. The author weaves beauty in with tragedy and does it seamlessly.
I won’t spoil the book. The beauty of this story is the way it layers and builds for the reader. It’s an investment of time and of endurance. A Little Life tells the story of a life that is anything but small.
BILLIE HINTON is an author and contributing editor to LitChat. Read her full bio here.