On rereading A Little Life

I didn’t realise until the last page was turned, but the second time I read Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life was exactly two years after the first. And two years ago, once finished with the tome of a novel, I swore I would never read it again. Despite loving it, it was too harrowing to read again. It took me weeks to get over that book. It haunted me as thoughts of Jude, JB, Willem, and Malcolm swarmed my mind almost every day.

A Little Life follows four friends as they move from college to New York. The some-700 page novel chronicles their relationships as they learn how to be in ambition, love, creativity, and success. But their friendship is permeated by darkness as they realise that one of them, Jude, has a past that is never to be spoken of.

Despite my vow, on a whim I picked up a beaten copy from my local charity bookstore and began to reread it, prepared for what was coming.

This time was different. Yes the abuse and trauma and darkness was there, and everything bad that happens to Jude still does (oh how I wish rereading changed his fate!), but I knew it was coming. I was prepared. And this time the darkness did not overcome the light.

I could appreciate the moments of beauty – those that I’d read before but had forgotten: golden hour in New York, the art and architecture, musings on the nature of friendship and adulthood and love, the miracle of life and those that fill it with light.

Distracted by the trauma I had forgotten it all. When anyone asked me about A Little Life all I could discuss was the abuse, the darkness, the suffering. And I would only recommend it with a warning – only read it on sunny days, or plan to have those you love there in the hours (days, weeks, months) after, or have a funny television series on hand to punctuate the pages of heartache.

But now, now I will recommend it with full disclosure: there’s terrible darkness in this book, but look for the light, and don’t forget it’s there.


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