To be totally and utterly captivated by a book is a rare treat and believe me, A Little Life is most certainly one of those books.
It starts off as a male version of Sex and The City, four friends ending their college lives and starting to make their own way in New York City, however it soon refocuses on the wonderfully enigmatic Jude who has lived a horrific life which is slowly revealed bit by bit. This is where the novel really gets going, the first third is a bit stop start and can be a little confusing. It feels as though Yanagihara started off with the idea of writing about four friends and ended up concentrating on Jude, which is all well and good for a first draft but at 700 pages, a little editing would have gone a long way to give this book a more cohesive story arc.
Tons of praise has been heaped upon this book and deservedly so. It is a thought provoking examination on how we cannot escape our beginnings no matter how much success and money we make. It is incredibly easy to emotionally invest in Jude and as a reader, you find yourself worrying about him in the rare moments when the book has been put down. I nearly ruined a holiday in Spain, throwing my food down my neck so I could get back to my room and this book.
If I were to be hyper critical, whilst concentrating on this little world she has produced, the author forgets to include the outside world. There does not appear to be any external factors, be they political, social or economica,l which impact the characters’ lives, which makes for a slightly unbelievable canvas for these wonderful brush strokes to land, which is a shame.
Regardless of this lack of realism, Jude does bring out the maternal or paternal instincts in everyone and the reader becomes exhausted rooting for him. Willem is the ideal man and creates a perfect immediacy for Jude to confront demon after demon. The other characters are totally believable and become well known to us very quickly. Yanagihara creates characters with so many facets that they anger you, make you laugh and make you cry. She does have a tendency to push the limits a little too far, not in terms of the graphic nature but more the level of peril she doles out, a break now and then would be useful, any good rollercoaster has to go up in order for the downs to work.
At the end of this ride, I was left feeling bereft, actually missing the characters and a bit floored whilst I took it all in. That is the mark of a powerful book in my opinion and why I would recommend it to anyone.