A Little Life – 4 out of 5 stars

Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life is as mysterious as its front-most narrator.

Yanagihara weaves a hard-to-read novel that gives mental health the attention the rest the world rarely does.

Well-written and remarkable while simultaneously grammatically frustrating. As much as I valued the book and rate it highly with full recommendations, Yanagihara’s use of personal pronouns is wildly distracting. I found myself wondering if this was done on purpose or whether the choice in editor was poor.

You see, every main characters is male and each periodically takes a turn narrating. This would be fine if there were any indication whatsoever that a change had or would soon take place. Instead, Yanagihara simply continues with “he” and “him” and “his” while referring to new nouns without bothering to define them. The reader then spends anywhere from a few paragraphs to pages and pages attempting to follow Yanagihara’s train of thought.

While some authors make changes like this with varied chapters, fonts, titles, or the like – it seems like that concept would be, at best, an after-thought in this case. The book would have received an extra star, meaning full five out of five, from me if these and similar grammatical errors had been given more thought.

Pushing grammar, use of fragments, ending with prepositions – none of these elements bother me when done well. But, when writing distracts and confuses the reader, it detracts from the story and puts a damper on the author’s work. You lose your audience. Hopefully your reader keeps trying. With a 700 page book filled with so much the world would benefit from reading, I only hope Yanagihara’s readers don’t give up.

Jude is our human hero who fails to recognise his strengths. Having survived horrid trauma, repetitive childhood rape, abuse throughout his life, assault and battery, domestic violence, and eventually a successful career, hope, love, and an enriching family – Jude is the friend that you’re afraid to walk away from because he’s mysterious, mesmerising, and kind but so hard on himself that you worry when he’s alone.

Yanagihara’s A Little Life is lovely and trying, and a story that happens but not often out loud.


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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