A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
As you can see, it’s taken me a long time to get around to reviewing this book. Actually, I’ve been so busy on other stuff, it’s been a while since I’ve even read a new book. Which sucks. But that’s about me.
The book is billed on the blurb as following four guys through their lives together from their early twenties to their early middle age. This is not quite the case: although the four guys do continue through the novel, it is really about one of them, Jude. Jude has a past that unfolds over the course of the novel and his own attempts to reconcile himself to that past form the spine of the story.
It also comes to dominate the story. Willem, JB and Malcolm, the other three of the gang, fade into the background and the story becomes about Jude’s self-engrossment, his intellectual brilliance and his emotional deficit. The scenes at the beginning that are touching and sometimes funny (not laugh-aloud funny, but upturned at the corners of the lips funny) start to fade and the dark side of Jude’s past takes over.
Ultimately, this fails to convince.
Although Jude’s past gets fully explained in emotional terms, Jude suffers numerous medical conditions as a result of it, and those conditions are vague and elusive. We’re told how they came to be, but not what they are, and that was confusing. The novel seems to take place in the New York of the 1980s to early 2000s. This was a time of huge social change, especially in attitudes towards gay people, yet the attitudes in the novel are entirely contemporary.
But what put me off was that, two thirds of the way into the novel, I’d stopped liking Jude. I should have been feeling sympathy for his appalling life. Instead, his inability to get over it was starting to wear. His constant neediness, his passive-aggressive approach, and the utter lack of sensitivity to those who were trying to help him: all of this lost me.
It wasn’t that the portrayal was unconvincing. To the contrary, it was very convincing. I got to know Jude very well; I just didn’t like him any more. There didn’t seem to be a single redeeming feature. And that left me cold.