“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 to 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.”
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
Published: 2015 / Rating: 5/5 / Pages: 720
In its simplest terms, this is a novel about the long-term friendship of four classmates from a Massachusetts liberal arts college who come to New York to make their way; unlike most such college friendships the four never lose touch over the years and decades. There is Willem, an actor from the West who becomes a Ryan Gosling-type indie film star and heartthrob; Malcolm, an Upper East Side buppie who becomes a noted architect; JB, a painter of Haitian/Brooklyn middle class descent whose Basquiat-type portraits of his friends earn him art world fame and fortune; and Jude St. Francis, a damaged orphan with a mysterious past whose brilliance in the law cannot shield him from the effects of that past and whose fragility and need for protection bind the group together as much as any one thing. The book begins as a four-hander as we watch the friends progress in their lives and careers and observe the intricacies and shifting alliances of such a group friendship. But gradually Jude takes over the book and we learn his horrifying and beyond-Gothic backstory. The drama of the book is whether Jude can ever escape the grip of his Dickensian past--can he be saved? All of this unfolds over the decades in a mesmerizing fashion, with the tragic and the transcendent being on closer and more intimate terms than any work of fiction you have ever read.
This is one of the most beautiful, extraordinary, devastating books I've ever read. The subject matter covered is definitely not for the faint of heart: grief, substance abuse, self-harm, sexual and psychological abuse (and its aftermath). It's a long read and very VERY depressing. But if you are not put off by the length and the dark subject matter, I would say it's the kind of book that needs to be read. It's definitely one of the best books I've ever read, and certainly the best that's been released so far this year. A Little Life is in the longlist for the Man Booker Prize this year and it truly deserves its spot on such a prestigious list.