What We Are Reading Today: A Little Life

What We Are Reading Today: A Little Life
Updated 02 May 2018

What We Are Reading Today: A Little Life

What We Are Reading Today: A Little Life
  • Haunted by the effects of childhood sexual and psychological abuse, the protagonist’s intellect and grit mean he nevertheless climbs his way up the higher echelons of New York’s law industry.

This novel by Hanya Yanagihara centers on the life of the enigmatic main character, Jude. Haunted by the effects of childhood sexual and psychological abuse, the protagonist’s intellect and grit mean he nevertheless climbs his way up the higher echelons of New York’s law industry. This novel lyrically evokes Jude’s network of supportive college friendships with artist JB, actor Willem and architect Malcolm and how the group of men live, love and grow together. At 734-pages long and often describing pain, sex, child abuse and disability with unflinching honesty, this book is not for the faint-hearted.

Shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, A Little Life is devoted to the spectrum of love and cruelty in male relationships. The list of hardships Jude has known, like the book’s length, at times seems relentless: from being deliberately run over as a child to enduring forced juvenile prostitution in faceless motels. 

US-based Yanagihara says she set out to “create a protagonist who never got better… [for him] to begin healthy (or appear so) and end sick — both the main character and the plot itself.” Ultimately this book seems to ask: “What if some things don’t have a happy ending? What if some things are too much to bear?” Jude’s trauma causes those around him to face ethical and care dilemmas and reexamine their own lives. And sometimes, Yanagihara seems to say, love might not be enough.