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A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara


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A Little Life is a splendid, wrenching, rich novel about four college classmates over about 30 years of their lives.

It is much more than a novel about gay men as their lives unfold; rather, it is a novel about people who happen to be gay facing their changing lives, one of whom has been deeply damaged in his early years. It is a romance novel in a way, but it is not a gay-romance novel in the sense of most of the stories at this and other quality gay sites.

When I started reading it, I told myself that at 100 pages along that I would reconsider whether it was worth it to finish all 700 pages. There was no question about continuing.

The writing is exemplary, the characters are well-drawn and memorable, and the story absolutely engrossing. In my view, this is a national-book-award-level work.

A Little Life will not be for everyone. It is long (and absorbingly so), its characters are intensely drawn, the situations are deeply emotional, and the "gay" part exists but not as part of a cause. The gay part is simply there.

A Little Life is far better than A Map of the Harbor Islands, which is a very fine novel that does not approach the level of intensity of Hanya Yanagihar's work.

I got if from my local library, but I see there is a Kindle edition.

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I found this review on Goodreads:

Maxwell rated it 5 of 5 stars

I can't, with a clear conscience, give this book anything less than 5 stars. It's a book that kept me reading long into the night, made me turn each page with vigor and curiosity, gave me chills and shivers over the joys and sorrows of each character, and ultimately left me feeling a bit older and tortured and yet at peace with the deeply complicated nature of humanity.

What Hanya Yanagihara does with A Little Life is nothing nearly as pretentious as that paragraph above. Somehow in 720 pages, she manages to adequately--better yet, excellently--show and make the reader experiences the lives of these young men. The novel follows four boys who meet at college: Malcolm, JB, Willem, and the central and mysterious figure, Jude. It's truly Jude's tale, but Yanagihara ends up telling each and every one of the boys' stories with ease and genuineness that makes them real.

Her prose is clean and honest and revealing of the many emotions that humans experience. It's never explicitly beautiful, not flowery or overwrought with adjectives or descriptors. But it has its own beauty that comes from its ability to convey these feelings, making you feel every pain or happiness that Malcolm and JB and Willem and Jude feel. It's some of the best prose I've read in a while (or ever read), and I wanted it to keep going on forever.

There's so much more I could say about this book. About how it hurt me to read at times--because yes, there is very graphic material (i.e. self-harm, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, drug use) that makes the reading cringeworthy in parts--about how I fell in love with so many wonderful people in this story, about how I learned empathy and sorrow and frustration and anger for and with each of them, and how if I were to write a book I would want it to have the essence of this one.

The truth is, though, I can't recommend this book to people, not without knowing them very well. Because it's a difficult journey that I can't suggest everyone take. Don't take this book lightly. But if you do choose to read it, if you choose to flip to that first page, be prepared for something inexplicable and jarring, but resilient and beautiful and ultimately worthwhile.

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