A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara
This modern day classic was not the easiest novel to read. In fact, the author seemed determined to give her readers the most horrendous time possible while reading her book. I don’t do well with angst; so most of the time, I was taut with tension. Bracing myself for the horrible account of what made Jude, Jude.
I read somewhere that while she was writing this book, she had a fight with her editor about just how much she’s willing to put her readers through. And I’m not gonna lie, about halfway through the novel, I didn’t think I was going to make it. Jude St. Francis’ life is far from little, as the title would suggest. He might’ve felt like he was insignificant at times, but he was the centre of his family’s and friends’ universe. You’ll never meet a more broken character than Jude. But I’m not going to enumerate all the ways this man has suffered. I don’t want to scare the pants out of you. Besides, I’ve already given you a tidbit into his life with my intro, so I don’t think you need to know more.
Let me tell you this, though: This book is brilliant, amazing, and horrible all at once. It’s the kind that will force you to take breaks because everything is horrific, yet grotesquely beautiful. It does not offer comfort or joy to anyone brave enough to read it. But what it gives you is a sense of satisfaction. Like finishing a long suffering marathon you did not train for. And even though you wanted to quit in the midst of the race, it’s physically impossible. Because it’s too late. Your body is screaming at you to cross that yellow ribbon. In as much as your heart, your soul – everything about you becomes so inevitably invested in the story that the idea of quitting hurts more than not knowing what happens next.
Reading A Little Life is like knowing a speeding train is about to hit you but you don’t move a muscle because what’s the point? 😭😭
— Joyousrages (@Joyousreads) November 24, 2016
Jude St. Francis only ever known of unhappiness and heartbreak literally all his life. It started when he was abandoned, half-naked, by a dumpster when he was a baby. And in here, the reader would question whether or not he was better off freezing to death. Because his life of torture and abuse began when he was taken in by the “brothers” of a monastery. He eventually escaped, but he was far from saved. Things got bad to worst; so bad that at some point, he wished he could go back to the monsters in that monastery. He was only 14 when the man he thought was his saviour pimped him out. And here is where I stop. I can’t go on rehashing all the terrible things that was done to him or what he’s done to himself. Like I said, I struggled all throughout this novel. But try as I might, I couldn’t stop. And now, I’m exhausted, beaten-up and all cried out.
Blessedly, it does have its moments of joy but the angst far outweigh it all. In as much as he lacked any healthy relationships growing up, he found himself loved during his adulthood. There were his friends from college that lasted decades: Willem who looked after him all his life; JB with whom he had a difficult friendship but was there with him the longest; Malcolm who made sure he has everything he needed in his own way; Andy who knew everything that had happened to him and have cared for his medical needs till the end. The author explored all the nuances and complexities of Jude’s relationships with the people around him. Not all of them were healthy, but it highlighted the kind of character Jude was.
At times, I felt Jude’s stories of abuse seem excessive. So I would step back and take a breather to compose myself; to think of why it was wholly necessary not to gloss over facts. Yanagihara was far from exploitative. She just has this uncanny talent of flaying her characters until they’re inside out. Jude is not the easiest character to like at times. His self-flagellation was excruciating to read. I wanted to yell at him; shake him until he saw sense. I wanted him to love himself as much as he loved Willem or Andy or Harold and Julia. And yet, I also wanted to take him home and watch over him like I’d watch my own child. I know with full clarity that I share the same feelings about Jude amongst those who cared for him. They loved him whole-heartedly, yes. But nobody really understood his propensity for destruction.