REVIEW: ‘A Little Life’ portrays beauty within emotional fragility

“A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara 

Are you looking for a new book? Then check out “A Little Life,” a story that brings heartache, connection and a sense of worth in one of author Hanya Yanagihara’s most popular novels. Yanagihara is a decorated Los Angeles-born author and editor in chief of T, The New York Times style magazine.

Published in 2015 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, this book went on to win the Kirkus Prize, and became a National Book Award and Man Booker Prize finalist. “A Little Life” follows the life of four young men from college into their individual careers.

Jude St. Francis is an intelligent, mysterious man who lives with many emotional traumas and physical chronic pain, which he suppresses, never sharing it with anyone other than his doctor and social worker. No one knows, not even Jude himself, where he comes from and who he really is.

Many of Jude’s core memories are of events made up of hellish experiences, but that does not keep him from being seen as a magnetic, admirable and caring person by his friends. The story follows him through his life as he goes to college, becomes a successful lawyer and struggles with his healing journey. 

Yanagihara portrays the heartbreaking beauty of developing trust in another person as Jude finally begins to tell his story.

Jude meets Willem Ragnarsson during their time in college. Willem is an up-and-coming actor who becomes Jude’s best friend. He is patient when it comes to the physically painful chronic episodes Jude must endure, helping him in any way he can. Yanagihara continues to tell Jude’ story as well as diving into Ragnarsson’s own sad past. Through this, the reader can see a connection between these two characters and the deep bond they share throughout the years.

Yanagihara continues to introduce the four main characters as she brings in Malcolm Irvine. He is a half-Black aspiring architect who spends most of his time creating small building models. Malcolm, who had also met Jude at college, has commitment issues and a strained relationship with his father, providing insight into his life and emotional upbringing.

Jean Baptiste “JB” Marion is another one of the four friends who is depicted as a highly driven artist that becomes self-obsessed in his work. He often ostracizes himself from the group despite the main theme of his best works of art are of his friends. From a supportive Haitian immigrant family that he often takes for granted, JB is often insensitive towards his friends, ignorantly romanticizing struggle and poverty. 

Through JB, Yanigihara shows readers how easy it is to take those that care the most about us for granted. His rise to fame and success in the art world came with the cost of constant jeopardization towards his relationships with his friends. 

Outside the realm of the four friends, readers are introduced to another pivotal character, Harold Stein, Jude’s former law professor, who later formalizes their relationship by adopting Jude as his own son with his wife Julia. Recognizing Jude’s brilliance with so much to offer in his hardwork and talent inside and outside the courtroom, Harold takes him under his wing. 

Both Harold and Julia tolerate the difficulties of adopting someone with a past kept tight-lipped, but struggle to accept that perhaps Jude’s past is too raw and too deep to reveal. 

Through Jude, Harold believes in an opportunity to love again, to believe again and to try again by healing Jude. Yanagihara exposes to readers the complications endured in projecting expectations onto another person, in an attempt to fill a loss in their own personal life through a new chance.

Yanagihara masterfully pulls each story together while still giving the main character spot to Jude St. Francis. She focuses on his past, present and future, as well as how the people around him impact who he is as a person by intertwining the complications of their own life experiences.

Trigger warnings include but are not limited to: sexual and verbal abuse, sexual abuse of a child, self-harm, car accidents, kidnapping, prejudiced language, drug use and addiction, grief and loss.

“A Little Life” has also been adapted into a play, directed by Ivo van Hove, which premiered on March 25 in London.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.