It was a serendipitous decision that A Little Life was the last book I read last year. Half-way through 2015, I had already gone through a couple of very painful and personal traumas including attendance at three funerals. I adopted the moniker “my long sh*tty year” in order to give explanation to too many circumstances beyond my control. While 2016, so far, has brought a sense of freshness and vitality, last year proved to me that life is nothing if not the ebb and flow of life’s incidents and accidents with everything in between. A Little Life is inherently a whole lotta ebb and a whole lotta flow. The lives of four college friends are captivatingly uncovered through an enchanting tale of life, loss and the power of circumstance.
Throughout this novel John Lennon’s moving ballad Hey Jude, most specifically the line “take a sad song and make it better” attached itself as soundtrack in my mind. Yanagihara’s protagonist Jude St Francis is the literary manifestation of a sad song. He has endured every possible obscenity and crushing episode of any fictional character I have read this side of Oliver Twist. In fact, good ole Ollie managed to journey through his troubles relatively unscathed. Jude’s sheer awful luck followed by an unrelenting spiral of misfortune is as brutal as it is unstoppable. Fate’s path will not be forfeited. And yet like Lennon’s filial tune, there are moments of light, excitement and yearning. There are long stretches of nostalgia and giddiness that burst through the murkiness.
This novel is devastatingly brilliant. The prose is superb and the plot journey is delicate and exquisite. The title itself, seemingly innocuous, is jarring when its relevance is understood. It is almost flippantly spoken and yet the meaning is so incredibly powerful and poignant, I actually had to pause reading for a couple of minutes while its significance absorbed through me like a scrounging parasite.
If not the best, then certainly one of the best novels I read last year. At over 700 pages A Little Life is a lotta book. But it is worth it. It can be slow and sad and difficult in parts which, to be fair, is not unlike the many human relationships we endure in our own little lives.