A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

Hanya Yanagihara-A Little LifeREAD FOR BOOKERTHON

Child abuse survivor Jude St Francis moves to New York with three friends, all ready to make their way in life. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realise, is Jude, a talented litigator but an increasingly broken man who is haunted by traumas he fears he’ll be unable to overcome.


❍ “I had very high hopes for this novel as the reviews have been amazing. I was apprehensive about the almost gleeful hype around the ‘suffering’ but I have read lots of grim stories before and coped so I steeled myself and dived in.

The strongest theme is that people are forever defined by the abuse that they have experienced. Despite what may be done to personally overcome abusive situations people are unable to ‘escape’ what happened and the best that can be done is to try and reconcile horrible events of the past with current life experiences. A Little Life illustrated cleverly that this can be done with varying degrees of success.

I can’t begin to imagine the difficulty of writing about abuse and its effects in a way that is authentic and credible. Did the author do this well? I guess that is up for individuals to decide.

What really disappointed me about this book was the storyline around the main characters’ lives. It felt more at times like a Flowers in the Attic or the latest Jodi Picoult rather than a piece of literature worthy of a Man Booker shortlist. In this sense it was very ‘readable’ but I would have preferred a lot less of the overwrought plot. The last third of the book was almost comical and unfortunately did not do the weighty theme any justice.

It’s not an author’s job to give readers a happy ending and tie everything together. We don’t need to feel as though justice has been served to enjoy a novel. Bad stuff happens to good people, we all know that. However, an author should not be celebrated for tackling such a difficult topic if the storyline supporting that topic is weak and laughable.

I’m not saying I could’ve done a better job! Kudos to Hanya Yanagihara. I just expected more from a Man Booker shortlisted novel.” – Suzy

❍ “This book has received a lot of media coverage about its themes of abuse and redemptive friendships. And yes those big themes are present. They are well-explored, evocative and all-consuming. Everything a theme should be.

But I question what’s missing from this book. For a start, Jude is not a complete character – in fact none of them are. Instead he is simply a victim; a caricature of a victim, to be violated in every way you probably can’t imagine. This does not make Jude a convincing or realistic character, rather the violence seems gratuitous and convenient; 700 pages of misery for misery’s sake.

Usually I appreciate (and actually revel in!) book misery for its potent ability to transcend the literary experience but this misery is not only the theme, it is also the plot, and as the plot, it is over done to the point of ridiculousness. Less would definitely have been more. I ended up becoming immune to the constant plot horrors and starting rolling my eyes when things took another far-fetched turn. There are not really any sub-plots either as every occurrence is used as another angle from which to examine Jude’s suffering.

The positives are the consistent pace, the reveal of information, the readability of the writing style, albeit a little waffly at the start, plus the timelessness created by a lack of details about the outside world. And, if you want to look at it as a case study of abuse, you’d say it’s perfect – it is entire and unabridged and overwhelming. (Maybe there’s a reason the characters are flat …)

I don’t know if I would recommend A Little Life. Some people may be touched by it, like the several sobbing reviewers quoted on the back cover, but I wouldn’t like to be the one to recommend something when I’m unsure if it would move you, distress you, or annoy you.” – Rachel

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