A Little Life has a big impact

A Little Life has had rave reviews from almost every literary publication you pick up as well as being recommended by The Tuesday Night Book Club.  I won’t attempt to compete with these reviews here – you can read them online – but I will give you my personal take on this book.

A Little Life starts out as a fairly familiar and conventional novel about four young friends who meet in college and gradually reveal their backgrounds to each other.  We follow their lives forward in to their careers and relationships until about halfway through the book when the writing begins to centre almost entirely on one character,  Jude.   As the New York Times says –

” And with Jude at its center, “A Little Life” becomes a surprisingly subversive novel—one that uses the middle-class trappings of naturalistic fiction to deliver an unsettling meditation on sexual abuse, suffering, and the difficulties of recovery. And having upset our expectations once, Yanagihara does it again, by refusing us the consolations we have come to expect from stories that take such a dark turn.”

Despite its huge size and expansive time period, there is no tidy resolution or happy-ever-after here.  By three quarters of the way through the book I was ready to give up on Jude and his problems because they were seemingly insurmountable.  I think the novel is too long with too many returns to Jude’s suffering and his friend’s inability to help.  Also it could have done with a bit of humour in the dialogue so we could enjoy the good times more. Part of the reason I persevered was that there was a gruesome hook as we (and all his friends in the story) want to know exactly what happened to Jude in his childhood.  It is a harrowing but absorbing read and because the writing is so good you feel as though you have gone through this experience yourself and compressed 70 years of pain into 3 days!

So, am I going to recommend this book to anyone?  Only with the most emphatic reservations – if you are the least bit down or have had personal experience with self-harm or sexual abuse – I would leave it for someone else.  If you are ready for a  literary experience that may not be pleasant but is definitely going to be moving …go ahead.