Four college graduates move to New York City to realise their dreams. The kind and handsome Willem Ragnarsson dreams of becoming an actor, the witty Jean-Baptiste Marion (JB) dreams of breaking through to the art world as a painter, Malcolm Irvine dreams of becoming an architect and Jude St. Francis of becoming a successful lawyer. The novel traces their friendship that spans over three decades. Even as they reach professional success that raises beyond their own expectations, they realise that Jude is unable to truly enjoy or accept his life. He tries hard to recover from his turbulent orphaned childhood spent at the monastery. That his encounters with paedophiles are so hard to bear that he takes to physical self-abuse. These extended graphic descriptions are bearable only because of the compassionate people around Jude, who try hard in making him accept the goodness of life. There is his former professor, Harold, and his wife, Julia who legally adopt him. There is his doctor friend, Andy, who takes care of him like an elder brother.
Hanya Yanagihara’s novel is at times dark and disturbing. The novel is definitely the most emotionally exhausting book I have come across yet. But it is its inherent beauty that makes this an unforgettable memory.
Readers of the 720-paged A Little Life shall henceforth compare and judge other books that tread on the topics of male friendship, homosexual relationship, paedophilia, child sexual abuse and parenthood. It shall become a benchmark.
There are a couple of things I absolutely loved about this novel. First, there is no mention of a time period. No year has been mentioned. Although you feel that the novel is set in a contemporary period, being set in the US, it has no mention of the 9/11. This is cleverly done because a generation of readers picking this book in the future can feel the book belong to their own time.
Second reason is, the characters are looked down upon for their race or sexuality. Asians and Afro-Americans, Homosexuals and Bisexuals are gracefully accepted in the society. This novel is without a doubt, the most inclusive novel I have come across yet.
Ending this write-up with two of my favourite quotes from the book:-
“Things get broken and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are — not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving — and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad–or good–it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”