A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Today I’m going to review Hanya Yanagihara’s newest novel, which gets short-listed for the Man-Booker prize. A Little Life follows the eclectic life stories of 4 college best friends–Jude, Willem, Malcolm, and JB–living in New York.

Throughout the novel, Jude gets the most spotlight due to his atypical childhood of extreme sexual abuse. Basically, the 800-something pages emphasize on the one and only Jude; how Jude can’t escape from cutting and hurting himself, how self-conscious Jude is although he has grown up as a famous and affluent lawyer, yada yada yada. For the other three men, I will explain their “life stories” briefly. Willem grows up wanting to be a successful movie actor, despite having lived in the country-side with his apathetic parents and ill brother. As you have already guessed, Willem eventually becomes a famous actor living in NYC, with fans swarming all around his presence. He grieves when his brother died, but feels nothing when his parents got into a car crash. For Malcolm, he’s the kind of guy whose parents are rich and respectable; thus, he always seeks validation from his father. And, surprise! He becomes the most successful architecture in town! JB is a bit complex, but his problems are diminutive when compared to Jude’s. JB appears cocky and confident when in reality he’s self-conscious (just like me) to the point that he converts his insecurity to smoking weed. But, hey! He becomes a notorious artist, so it’s all good. Okay, let’s get back to the main guy here: Jude. Jude has undergone a plethora of misfortunes since little–he grows up in foster home where no adults wants to adopt him, gets raped continuously, receives false assurance from his respectable teacher, and worst, gets almost killed by an inhumane doctor who abuses Jude mentally and physically. DAMN! Such a relentless suffering! No absolute chill. Thank goodness, Jude finally establishes happy relationship with Willem in the 5th part of the novel (The Happy Years).

Okay, I really don’t want to bash the author because she’s an Asian, and I know how hard it is for women of color to thrive as a writer (well, as everything, really) in the US. Props for Yanagihara for having her novel be praised by book critics and given various literary awards! I really am amazed by how vast her knowledge and idea of health, New York, LGBT community, mental illness, and so on. And……… that leads to her novel having such an excessive glob of paragraphs. There are a lot of irrelevant pages that explain the life background of EVERY individuals who relate to the main characters. Emphasize on the word “every”, will you? And man, that’s the main problem–the novel is beautiful, yet redundant. Too much exaggeration. For some parts, I assume Jude is being unnecessarily egoistic towards Willem, yet Willem still justifies Jude’s action considering Jude has gone through a lot of “stuff”. The “stuff”, of which I have explained on the 1st paragraph, is too nonsensical for me. I’m sorry! That’s just my opinion. Overall, Jude’s character makes me feel both sympathetic and angry. Jude reminds me of a rusting iron; he is bleak, and he never gets better. In fact, he refuses to get better. On and on, Jude drowns himself to the abyss of pure self-destruction.

A month ago or so, I watched Yanagihara’s interview on A Little Life. There, she told the interviewee that the main purpose of her writing is to build a character that never gets better; worse and worse, to the point of torment. The way Yanagihara talks reminds me of her writing style; she is indeed very articulate.

If you are the kind of person who can’t handle violence, is racist and homophobic, despises redundancy… this novel is definitely not for you. Also, if you have a history with mental illness, avoid this book at all cost because it is extremely triggering. Have a nice day!

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