It’s hard to call A Little Life a hidden gem, because it was a bestseller. However, no matter how much I tell people to read it no one believes me about how incredible it is, so here I am writing an article. The novel follows the lives of four college students into adulthood, particularly the mysterious Jude, who is troubled by years of trauma that is gradually revealed throughout the story. My one warning about this book – it deals with some incredibly heavy subjects, so definitely read up on the themes before reading and proceed with caution.
Yanagihara explores the limits of the human mind in A Little Life, forcing us to really come face to face with the best and worst of humanity. It’s a new and devastating take on tragedy in fiction, an unbearably dark tale that will stay on your mind long after you finish the last page. Although it’s well over 700 pages, you can fly through this book in just a few days, with an irresistible writing style and the kind of characters you can’t take your eyes off for even a second.
Even if you’ve never cried at a book before, A Little Life will make you shed a tear, or in my case, full on weep for several days. As you learn more and more about Jude, the novel’s protagonist, the more protective you will become over this character, and the more horrified you will become that someone could write a book so sad. It’s conflicting: you don’t want your friends to be sad, but you need someone else to read the book and offer the emotional support you need after reading.
Yanagihara’s intention is to push the reader to the limits of their imagination, to force them to deal with the most harrowing subjects out there. The characters are complex and reflect very real relationships. Despite some criticisms over the relentless and perhaps unrealistic level of tragedy, the love between the characters is true to life and uplifting.
This is not a light read. In fact, few readers will actually relate to the issues endured by the characters throughout the novel – but it forces us to confront the real trauma that people face, and the representation of friendship in A Little Life is one that we can all learn from.
Again, I issue a final warning: make sure this book is right for you – the trigger warnings are very real. But if you want a look at the darker side of fiction, then A Little Life is the best recommendation you’ll get.