Trigger warnings for self harm and abuse
Usually I struggle to write reviews for books, as I find it difficult to articulate my thoughts, themes and synopsis without going overboard on adjectives. As a way to develop my writing skills, I write mini reviews on Good Reads and apart from the times when I can’t be bothered, I have noticed an improvement. A Little Life has left me so conflicted that for the first time I actually have a lot to say about it.
Book reviews aren’t about to become a regular occurrence on my blog but getting my thoughts down was useful as there was a lot to unpack.
A Little Life follows the lives of four college room mates – Willem, Jude, JB & Malcolm who move to New York, concentrating mainly on Jude and his tortured past.
My sister did warn me about the unnecessary abuse and violence, and I agree that the detail from Yanagihara was regularly too much. One of the self harm scenes was so graphic that I can’t un-see it. As someone who has self harmed in the past, the way it was written was more often than not fetishisising a very serious aspect of mental illness.
Whilst Willem not knowing how to help Jude, as his friend was plausible. I could not, however, get behind his doctor not knowing how to help him. Anyone else in Jude’s situation would have been immediately admitted to a psychiatric ward. There were even points that I struggled to believe that Jude could still be alive.
But then, A Little Life offered a very accurate depiction of mental illness, especially of someone who has experience such catastrophic abuse in their life. In a lot of novels, people overcoming trauma is shown in a very linear way.
The Happy Years
Is a lie! One of the final parts is called The Happy Years which felt like the biggest deception. I felt empty and numb to what had happened to Jude, and then everyone else was just making things worse. Other readers said they couldn’t stop crying but by the end of The Happy Years I was completely drained.
The length alone of A Little Life (720 pages and small font) will put many people off. There are many reviews which state that there is too much repetition but I never felt this was the case. Apart from the detail of torture, I found Yanagihara’s character exploration compelling and you want to find out where each of them end up. I do wish there had been more of Malcolm but I guess his life just wasn’t traumatic enough.
Rather than a lot of fiction where you get a characters backstory in one go, Jude’s past is weaved between the present day narrative. Jude’s past is a horror story and not one that I would wish for anyone but layering his early life throughout the course of the novel shows how abusers manipulate and the effect this has on the abused.
My final rating:
A beautiful character exploration but the excessive detail of trauma and lack of light relief has completely drained me.
A Little Life definitely isn’t going to be for everyone and if you are currently battling with your own demons then I would opt for something light hearted for the time being.
Have you read A Little Life? What were your thoughts?