The best novel I've read so far in 2015 is--hands-down, no questions asked--Hanya Yanagihara's flawed but absolutely compelling, astonishing, challenging novel, A little Life.
This isn't so much a review as a reaction piece. Somehow, I don't really feel like I can offer a full review of the novel. For one thing, I don't want to inadvertently include any spoilers. In some ways, I feel as though readers are better off going into this novel without many pre-conceived notions about the characters or the plot. It's better to just experience it with a fresh, open mind.
For another thing . . . my God, I'm not even sure how to think about adequately reviewing it in a traditional sense. If you've read the novel, you may know what I mean.
So, here is what I posted on Goodreads about A Little Life just after finishing the novel last month: Whoa... This book will wring your heart out. You don't READ A Little Life so much as experience it on a primal level. The novel includes some disturbing, emotionally harrowing material, and in that sense, it can be difficult to read. So why is it racking up 5 star reviews from many literary fiction fans? I think because Yanagihara makes readers feel so deeply connected to the characters, so positively immersed in their lives ... she has a way of creating a bond between the reader and her fictional characters that is nothing short of astonishing. Therefore, add me to the growing collection of people singing the praises of A Little Life--even though I do think the novel has a few flaws. Ultimately, it's a truly thought-provoking book that raises questions about the nature of love and friendship, how people can overcome trauma, and how far any of us is prepared to go to help a friend or loved one experiencing pain.
Back to me in the present.... So yup, this is quite a powerful book. I devoured it--it's over 700 pages, but I flew through it in a couple of days. Yanagihara grabs ahold of you with her complex, rich characters and will NOT LET GO. I think I have a completely fresh definition now for a book that you "can't put down."
I do think there are a few things that aren't perfect here. To start, Yanagihara really hits Jude hard, over and over again ... It's relentless. Was it necessary for this character to experience so much pain and heartache? I think Yanagihara clearly exaggerates his pain for a reason--to force us think about the nature of physical and emotional trauma, about our responsibility for others, about the limits of love and friendship, etc. But .... is it too much?
Secondly .... women? Women characters are almost completely absent in this novel. I know--there's Julia, a social worker, a few female friends, but they are cardboard cut-outs compared to the men. I have to say I noticed this and wondered why. Interestingly, Yanagihara's previous novel, The People in the Trees, also lacks any deeply developed female characters. So, two novels, with only men as fully-realized characters . . . I'd love to know if that was a conscious decision on Yanagihara's part.
I think, in the end, everyone should just experience the novel for themselves. It's a powerful and thought-provoking book, and it would be fabulous for a book club. This is a book that cries out to be discussed over a few glasses of wine. I'll be eagerly anticipating the discussion on The Socratic Salon!
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher, Doubleday Books, through NetGalley, for review consideration.
What do you think . . . Have you read A Little Life? If not, do you plan to?