What’s it all about?:
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.
What did I think?:
If you’ve not heard of A Little Life before now where the devil have you been? Critically acclaimed, this incredibly powerful novel was short-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction in 2015, was a finalist for the National Book Award in the same year and won the Kirkus Prize in Fiction, also in 2015. I jumped on the bandwagon a bit later (as usual!) in February of 2016 but because of my back-log in reviews I’m only getting round to reviewing it now. There is also the minor fact that I can’t seem to form any coherent thoughts about it without wanting to turn into a blubbering mess but we’ll leave that to the side for now!
A Little Life is not an easy read, far from it and as a result may not be for everyone. There are trigger warnings for physical and sexual abuse but the entire novel felt like an insanely emotional roller-coaster for me. The story follows four friends in New York and we learn a little bit about each of their lives and the bonds of friendship that tie them all together. However, we mainly hear from Willem and more specifically Jude, the latter of whom has undergone major trauma and suffering in his past – trauma that still deeply affects him in his everyday life, threatens to spoil his future happiness and has the potential to ruin relationships with those dearest to him. Throughout the novel, we learn more about what Jude’s mammoth struggles, both in the past and in the present, learn more about him as an individual and, in the end, suffer with him as it seems like his disturbing past will be a cross to carry for the rest of his life.
As I mentioned earlier this book is incredibly harrowing and deals with some intensely difficult subjects. If you find abject misery and trauma hard to read about, this book might not be for you. I hesitate to say that I “enjoyed” this book, enjoy is not quite the right word as the topics I read about were so awful at times I found it hard to keep turning the pages. It’s quite strange, by about fifty pages in, I honestly couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and was seriously considering putting it down. Yet by about one hundred pages, I was completely invested in the characters and their lives and if someone had tried to tear the book out of my hands, there might have been trouble! This might sound very silly but it’s a novel where when I finished it, I actually felt changed as a person and that feeling has stayed with me over a year later as have the characters of Willem and Jude. I can’t stop thinking about them or about the fact that I know what it feels like now to have your heart break into pieces when you read an astounding story such as this.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):