The blurb says 'brace yourself' and this is good advice. I came close to giving up on A Little Life (now shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015) about a third of the way through, but I'm glad I persevered as it turned out to be a very rewarding read.
In brief, the novel is about a group of friends who meet in college and stay closely in touch, mainly living in New York, for many years to come. Jude, the main character, is intriguing and entrancing. I wanted to be his mother, his girlfriend, his wife and his lifelong friend. I wanted to belong in this book, to become one of the close and loyal group of friends who surround Jude because they love and admire him and want to help him learn to love and accept himself - which may well be an impossible task.
A Little Life ventures into the worlds of medicine, art, law, architecture and films, and the author has clearly done her research - there's a wealth of insight and information about them all. My one quibble is that almost all the characters are blindingly successful and wealthy. I'll forgive them that though, as I'll forgive Yanagihara for the occasional slippage into overwritten and laboured description. Most of the time you don't notice the writing at all, which, of course, is a sign that it's doing its intended job.
Some of the material from Jude's horrific childhood is very graphic and difficult to read. But you never have any sense of being a voyeur. It's as though you're being taken into the confidence of these kind folk who befriend him in adulthood, with a gentle warning that this will hurt, but it's important that you hear it.
As a reader, I didn't want this book to end, knowing how much I would miss these characters. I suspect, though, that I won't be able to bring myself read it again and experience Jude's appalling childhood for a second time. As a writer, I feel inspired to do better, to look for characters as complex and challenging as Jude and listen to what they have to say. As a person, I am horrified yet again at the depths that my fellow human beings can sink to, while being inspired to try to be a better friend.
Ultimately, friendship is what this book is about. It's a treasure, but yes, brace yourself...
Title: A Little Life
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Date of publication: 10th March 2015
Price: Hardcover £18.38; Kindle £6.59
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