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Book review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

There are many books that I forget almost as soon as I finish reading them. Even those that I love are often lost in a dusty part of my mind.

However, I know that it is going to be very difficult to forget A Little Life.

Set in New York, it tells of a group of friends who meet at university. It travels from their carefree life as students, to the years spent struggling to build careers in law, architecture and the arts.

Later, they are successful adults who remain tied to the boys they were.

While the book starts out following each of the boys’ stories, it eventually settles on one – Jude St Francis. It emerges throughout the novel that as a boy Jude encountered terrible abuse at the hands of different men.

The drip feed of the facts of his life is necessarily drawn out – it would be too difficult to digest the full truth all at once.

At times when I was reading A Little Life, I wondered whether I could go on as the details of Jude’s life became harder and harder to bear.

However, Yanagihara peppers the pain and misery with enough love that it was possible to go on.

And that, perhaps is where the great success of this novel lies – it intersperses great love with great pain, in this way uncovering a truth of life.

There is no great redemption and it is clear that trauma does not magically become negated, no matter how many years or what kindness has passed in the meantime.

I was absolutely swept away by the story of these boys, and while heartbroken, I found it ended the only way it could.

I’m looking forward to reading Yanagihara’s next novel, although I’m not sure I can take the same emotional upheaval as I felt with this book.

It was one of the best novels I’ve read so far this year.

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