‘A Little Life’ is unlike anything else, and simply unforgettable
A LITTLE LIFE Hanya Yanagihara
Picador Price: R389 (Loot.co.za)
Reviewer: James Kidd
HANYA Yanagihara’s first book, The People in the Trees, was a brilliant novel that confronted the worst excesses of male hubris through restraint and excision. Yanagihara’s follow-up, A Little Life, which has been long listed for the Man Booker Prize, approaches similar subject matter, but from the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Just about every page is saturated with trauma: child abuse, rape, domestic violence, dysfunctional families, addiction, self-harm, suicide and grief.
The effect is heightened after the novel’s opening, which describes a touching love square between actor Willem, volatile artist-in-waiting JB, Malcolm, who is steady but anxious, and Jude, the enigma within this novel’s riddle.
About a quarter of the way in, JB and Malcolm retreat from the limelight, which burns ever more brightly on Willem and blindingly on Jude.
Jude’s duplicity is helped by the conspicuous nature of his material success. A poster boy for the American Dream, he earns a fairy tale education, fairy tale friends, fairy tale job, fairy tale flat, and a fairy tale boyfriend.
The clarity of Yanagihara’s prose is perfect for dissecting blind ambition, the consolations of work and money, and how these paper over the cracks of fragile, fractured individuals. So it is with Jude, a self-harmer whose wrecked body can hardly withstand the incisions he makes.
If Yanagihara writes sharply on external rewards of accomplishment, her chiaroscuro style is even more unflinching when detailing Jude’s secret world of violence.
“Before he had been taught to cut himself, there was a period in which he would toss himself against the wall outside… again and again until he sagged, exhausted, to the ground, and his left side was permanently stained blue and purple and brown with bruises.”
The percussive over-abundance of that sentence might describe A Little Life as a whole.
The reader too will sag exhausted to the ground, overwhelmed by how much pain one human can endure. I shared the frustrations of Jude’s friends, but like them I could not look away, so completely did Yanagihara’s world convince.
Proof that sometimes in art more really is more, A Little Life is unlike anything else out there. Over the top, beyond the pale and quite simply unforgettable. – Independent