Coffee Break

Coffee Break: I Read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Reader, it has been months since I finished reading A Little Life and promising to share my thoughts. Forgive me, it took me longer than expected and mostly that’s because I didn’t want to get back to this book and its characters. I have tried writing a review but it has proven difficult, so let me tell you about my reading experience.

The Why

For years I have seen A Little Life all over Booktube and Bookstagram but I have never bothered with it. For one it is big and big books scaries is real, and two the reviews weren’t that inviting. Every review that I saw/read talked about how tragic the book is and nothing about the characters or the writing etc, you know, things that would inform my decision to pick it up. So for me I never had any FOMO.

Fast forward to me starting The Women’s Prize For Fiction Shortlist reading challenge, and what do you know, the book was shortlisted in 2015, so I knew I will definitely read, just to tick off from my list if nothing more. For my birthday this year, I got A Little Life and now I had to plan how to tackle it.

The Process

If there is one thing you need to know about me is that I love structure so having a plan and creating an outline for A Little Life was top priority. First, I found other people who wanted to read the book so that we can read along. (Hi Gathoni, Nzioka, Kerril) We had discussions each Saturday on the book just to decompress and cheer each other on to continue. Not to mention a WhatsApp group to check in throughout the week. Then, using my sticky notes I sectioned the book in the 7 parts it has so that it would be easier to get through. I got myself some sticky tabs because I knew I wanted to keep track of certain things in the book. Reader, I wasn’t ready for how many packs I would end up using. (6 packs!)

The things I was keeping track off:

  • Blue – Language, notable sentences & parts
  • Green – Characters & character interaction
  • Orange – Any bad thing that happens
  • Pink – Happy moments
  • Lime green (Yellow?) – New words

Book Triggers/Content Warning

  • Abuse – Physical, emotional, Mental
  • Addiction
  • Suicide
  • Rape
  • Pedophilia
  • Sexual assault
  • Self-harm
  • Depression
  • Violence
  • Institutional abuse

(Do let me know if I have missed any)

The Experience

It took me close to 2 months to read A Little Life, mostly because I would read it in bursts then put it down and not pick it up for weeks at times. I ended up giving the book 3.5 stars. I was equal parts intrigued and bored.

A Little Life is a character driven book that I found stunning with beautiful use of language. I am in awe of how Hanya Yanagihara uses the English language and if you have read the book you know what I mean. The book is rooted in New York but you can’t tell the time and that was one thing that had me fascinated. It could be the 1900s or 2000s who knows. Dare I say that A Little Life might be on the run to be a modern classic in years to come?  There are careful placed words and sentences that make this one beautiful book in terms of structure and I would find myself rereading certain paragraphs because what a wow!

The character development in A Little Life is something to talk about. The some characters (well those I cared form, not you JB) are well developed and watching their level of growth in the pages is amazing. The book does detail or rather show the friendship and lives of these 4 characters in such a raw and intense way, like everything is in extremes, the good and the bad. What is moderation?? To be fair, it does show a great bond between friends. It’s beautiful to read. The character interaction is also really good to watch, Richard, Andy, Harold… are some of my favorite people to read and they were a light in this book.

A Little life is an unsettling and can be an uncomfortable read. I would say it’s not a book for everyone. A Little Life is not an easy read both in terms of content and its heftiness, but that being said, I feel like it’s not as scary or traumatizing as I was led to believe. I didn’t read anything new and as a Historical Fiction buff (self- proclaimed) this is something I read every day. Is it sad? Yes. Does it break you? No.

A Little Life does explore real things that happen in real life and hats off to Hanya for doing that but I do feel like certain scenes and parts were written for shock value to get an emotional response from the reader and this annoyed me so much. This is one erratic book which is emotionally overwhelming on purpose and the more the author kept on doing these scenes the more of an overkill it became and reading the book became a chore!

One thing that was a miss for me was the show and tell. There is no balance as Hanya does a lot of telling instead and that is a petty detail that pissed me off. Throughout the book there is a sense of the fear of the unknown and it drags out for so long that by the time it was presented to us I was so over it. A Little Life has non- linear narration (which I don’t mind at all) but there are no page breakers which caused me major reader fatigue. Listen, this book can be exhausting!!! Also, I am of the opinion that this book did not need to be as big as it is. It could have been easily cut down to 500 pages and still deliver.

Finally…

If asked I would say A Little Life is all about unpacking Jude’s trauma with no solution at all. He would make progress and then get pulled back 10 steps behind and I believe Hanya piled onto him more than is necessary.

A Little Life can be intimidating, both in its size and font so try to look past that if you are planning on reading it. It’s a sad book in part but also has uplifting moments, find them. I got the ending that I wanted but not in the way I wanted it but hey, you can’t always win.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed with the book. I found it to be an okay read, and if you haven’t read it, you’re not missing out on anything. I do think though in terms of writing and language it is a good book but that gets overshadowed by the subject matter, and for me that was the least thing in the book.

I am not saying don’t read the book, but, I am also not recommending it.

Have you read A Little Life? If yes, what did you think about it? If no, do you plan on reading it?

7 thoughts on “Coffee Break: I Read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

  1. I read the book, and I am sure you know how I feel about it already! 🙈for me it’s so far amazing book because I love the little details, the little description of the emotions, more than that even… being part of someone’s life from their childhood till the end…. and yes this book could be saddening and heartbreaking however it teaches you how to be grateful for the little
    Life you have right now… maybe the purpose of the book was to break the reader down or to see whether the reader is going to be part of Jude throughout… the book or not…

    1. I totally do, and I respect. ❤️ I know one book is never read the same, so I guess the difference is expected. I’m really glad that you loved it though, and it was worthy your time.

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