A Little Life: A review

It took me a whole month to read it, well nearly. 30th April to 25th May, so just short of 28 days to read the tome that is the 720 page A Little Life  by Hanya Yanagihara. A book that is not so little, in physical size as well as it’s weighty subject matter. But hands down, this is the best book I have read this year. Maybe the best book I’ve read ever…  I actually saw Anna from the Anna Edit recommend it in one of her favourite videos and when I looked it up I thought it was just my kind of book. Let me explain why.

The blurb in the prelim pages describes it as follows; ‘When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition’. When I read this sentence I immediately thought that it was going to be the story of a group of women, but I was wrong. It’s the story of male friendship and in my experience (and please do let me know if I’m wrong), but there aren’t many books written about friendship involving men. Certainly not in such depth, they’re usually comedies, right? And while reading it, despite being female myself, there was so much I could relate to. And of course men experience friendship the same way women do, it’s a sweeping generalisation that men don’t talk to their friends in the same we way do or that friendship to men isn’t as close and important as friendship is to women.

‘It was feeling honoured by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you can be dismal around him in return.

As well as friendships, we also deal with topics of addiction, eating disorders, depression, self harm, suicide. And again, this is a book about men. Not women. I was reading this during Mental Health Awareness week and it felt so very apt. At the same time Coronation Street ran a story line about male suicide and Frightened Rabbit’s frontman, Scott Hutchison, was found dead in the Forth in Scotland after having taken his own life. There are massive campaigns encouraging men to feel more comfortable about asking for help and this book covers this topic beautifully, but in a way that doesn’t feel obvious. At no point did I feel like the story was unrealistic because it was men and not women and it wasn’t preachy in its approach. I’m sure I haven’t covered this bit well enough to do it justice, but I genuinely believe that it’s such an important book for this reason.

There was so much to relate to too, alongside all the dark and emotionally traumatic sections, the author captured growing up into adulthood, keeping your friends with you without growing apart, societal expectations of how people should live their lives at certain ages… it deals with so much. I’m going to drop a few quotes here that I loved;

Some of them ask him with pity, and some ask him with suspicion; the first group feels sorry for him because they assume his singlehood is not his decision but a state imposed upon him; and the second group feels a kind of hostility for him, because they think that singlehood is his decision, a defiant violation of a fundamental law of adulthood.’

‘Without them, one’s status as an adult is never secure; a childless adult creates adulthood for himself; and as exhilarating as it often is, it is also a state of perpetual insecurity, of perpetual doubt.’

‘He was tired, he was so tired. It was taking so much energy to hold the beasts off.’

I could go on, for the first time in YEARS as I read it I was folding down corners of pages because a sentence or a paragraph would resonate so strongly with me that I knew I’d want to come back and read them again.

It’s a heartbreakingly traumatic book and some sections are really difficult to read. But at the same time, it’s a beautiful depiction of friendship and love where people choose who to call family. It will take a long time to read and sometimes you’ll want to put it down, close your eyes to it and weep silently inside (and I’m not even being dramatic here!). But I think this is one of the most important books I’ve read. Ever. And it’s beautifully done; I fell in love with all of the characters (which arguably made some sections harder). I would 110% recommend that you read this book. Please read it so I have someone else to talk to about it!

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