I was sent an electronic copy of 'A Little Life' by Hanya Yanagihara by Pan Macmillan to read and review on BLEURGH, but the review was delayed by the hefty 700+ pager the novel boasts. It was only upon leafing through last week's exclusive digital Stylist Magazine issue, that I found just how big a deal Yanagihara's novel was; listed as a summer must-read! Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, A Little Life tells the story of Jude whose past experiences as a child, mar his ability to function socially as an adult in his plight to leave that turbulent past behind. I will endeavour to dart past possible spoilers, but let me assure you, A Little Life's 700+ pages is no joke; littered with rape, child abuse, addiction, physical and sexual abuse, suicide, dysfunctional families, status frustration, 30-year landmark, self-harming and grief. Although slow with the dramz, A Little Life quickly builds from an apt almost-reality show docu-view of bachelor life, to recounted trauma and chronicled self-harm, which I will thematically discuss in classic BLEURGH fashion.
"settling for something that was not quite your first choice of a life seemed weak-willed and ignoble"
"the pressure to achieve happiness felt almost oppressive"
THE QUIET ONES TRIUMPH - 'A Little Life' starts off documenting the habitual life of 4 male friends who've moved to the Big Apple (aka New York) fresh out of college, Massachusetts. There's the Brooklyn-born artist JB who's obsessed with pulling the race card; middle-class architect graduate Malcolm whose plight to break free from the wealthy umbilical cord leaves him frustrated by both his social ignorance and silver-spooned upbringing; handsome aspiring actor Willem from the country whose dumbness can be forgiven thanks to his selfless love for his friends; and handicapped legal genius Jude who serves as the sun upon which their friendship pivots around. A Little Life chronicles their rise to success as JB's experimental art lands him the fame he dreams of as a renown painter; Malcolm becomes an internationally acclaimed architect; Willem lands the role of his dreams and becomes a respected actor; and lastly Jude's legal career springs from the meager salary in the public defender's office to an attorney in a Forbes-worthy firm. about 1/3 way through, however, only the flatmates Willem and Jude remain prominent characters for the rest of the novel, with Jude triumphing as the uncharacteristic protagonist of the novel having survived a turbulent past to take centre stage as the poster child of the American Dream.
"surrendering to what seemed to be your fate had changed from being dignified to being a sign of your own cowardice"
Putney Bridge & Pier, London
"Their faith in him, in his ultimate triumph, remained unwavering"
FRIENDS AS FAMILY - From experience, I've learned that friendship patterns tend to change as a result of geographical drifting or priorities shifting. The same cannot be said of the 4 characters in A Little Life; whose lives, cares and whims orbit around the psychological, physical and general wellbeing of Jude. It is almost alien to read about the unrelenting virtue of Jude's friends - especially Willem - and how after fast-forwarding several years from college, they never seem to outgrow each other because of their belief that friendship was "like any relationship...it took constant pruning, and dedication, and vigilance, and if neither party wanted to make the effort, why wouldn't it wither?"
"friendship was a series of exchanges; of affections, of time, sometimes of money, always of information"
"identical expressions of exhaustion, that blend of determination and resignation that only the immigrant possesses"
DEPTH - Deeper into the novel, you see the characters' lives blurred by addiction, sexual relationships and the dark side of success. As we grow older, we see our peers sour in their careers and relationships as we await idly for our Prince Charming or opportunity to come knocking, and this initiates feelings of guilt, envy and stress. But the characters in A Little Life aren't the norm, and the reader soon learns that their midlife crises are nothing in comparison to the psychological trauma that plagues their good friend Jude. In a remarkable and precise prose, Yanagihara documents Jude's tragedy through a dark examination of this past and the limits of human endurance.
"what was happiness but an extravagance, an impossible state to maintain" - A Little Life