Without knowing anything more than that it was a “buzzed about book” and that “the book would make me feel things”, I last year started reading “A Little Life”. Although the book is over 700 pages, I finished it two weeks later – the only reason for taking so long being a brief pause because I refused to acknowledge what I feared to happen in the last chapters.
Whereas a page-turner typically becomes so by being a whodunit or being written in a rapid manner, such is not the case for Hanya’s book. Her descriptive – at times almost too specific – style of writing, and meditations on life and friendship enticed me to keep reading. She created a curiosity to see how the main characters would develop; a curiosity that was not satisfied until the last page. The book starts out by describing four friends from New York. They are a seemingly common group of friends, having just finished college and struggling through their respective lives in the hope of finding fame and fortune (or at least sufficient money to rent a proper apartment). At first sight, the novel appears to be “just another” coming-of-age novel: well-written, but not explicitly new or challenging. However, as the novel progresses and we learn more about the main characters, the mood slowly shifts and becomes darker. The pasts of Malcolm, JB, and Willem are revealed. They all seem to have experienced their respective problems, but the worst story seems to be that of Jude – why else would it be kept secret? The sweet and silent Jude rarely shares anything and wishes for his past to remain elusive. Although the combination of an unrevealed past and Jude’s extensive self-harm provide an indication that his past cannot possible be a story you want to know, it in its own twisted way provides an incentive to keep reading.
I simply refuse to tell you what happens next, as I would advise you to discover so yourself. What follows is namely a story spanning over thirty years and taking the time to implicitly discuss some of life’s most important facets. Friendship, family, and even romantic love are all experienced through a distorted lens damaged by a traumatic past. It provides a bleak outlook, showcasing that at times even all the love and friendship in the world cannot save someone who considers himself a lost cause. Yet even in this overall bleakness, I found the book strangely uplifting; it accentuates moments such as small gestures of friendship, finding a new family in old acquaintances, or finally allowing another person into your heart. The fact that some of the characters failed to recognize these moments in their own lives makes me want to ensure that I recognize and appreciate them in my own life: I would almost say that I now experience ‘a little more life’.