With many of us still traversing newly-founded surges of free time post-lockdown, there is no better opportunity to start delving into the world of all things literature. Kickstarting House of Coco’s new thread of book reviews – to keep you occupied from the holiday reminiscences – we went transatlantic to discover life on the sidewalks of New York City, courtesy of Hanya Yanagihara’s, 2015 Booker Prize nominee, ‘A Little Life’.
I spent most of my lockdown with an emotional hangover; from the TV adaptation of Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ to Evaristo’s ‘Girl, Woman, Other’, there wasn’t often a morning where I woke up not cloaked by a quilt of melancholy, an aching chest full of nostalgia consequentially caused by my bout of excessive binge-watching / reading the evening before. But with Hanya Yanagihara’s ‘A Little Life’, the aftermath couldn’t be whittled down to a momentary morning slump. This wasn’t a 24-hour bug – the kind that grips you with its all-consuming clout then evaporates into an unpleasant memory – but more a chronic affliction that never departs. In other words, this book stuck with me. It welded itself to my heartstrings and cortex, in a bid to ensure that I’m never a few hours away from remembering a snippet of the text and reverting back to that ‘the-morning-after’ state of disconsolate disposition.
In overview, the storyline threads itself through the lives of four protagonists; a group of male aspirants desperately trying to navigate their existence from the apartment blocks of New York City after graduating from New England University. With an eclectic mix of career goals behind them, the personal nuances of each character are echoed through their private quirks, foibles, and life-choices; take the scene – for example – where we learn that JB, a hopeful artist, is sleeping on the floor of his studio following an entanglement with addiction, whilst his long-term companion Jude opts to spend his evening mulling over mathematical enigmas for fun.
The plot does an excellent job of transporting its audience to the concrete pavement of a fervent metropolis, buzzing with all-night-rendezvous’ and overpriced restaurants, but it soon becomes clear that this novel is less an account of a bunch of spritely twenty-somethings grappling with city living, and more-so an acumen to the subtleties and complexities of life.
The quaternate narratives are told through a series of idiosyncratic points of view, but readers are mostly cast into the realities of Jude, a gifted law graduate trying to come to terms with his unforgiving past, and Willem, an ambitious actor who is thrust into the spotlight and aims to juggle his attention between newfound fame and a tightknit social circle. There’s no denying that the novel is intimidating in size, but Yanagihara’s succession in packing decades of life’s gradations and turbulences makes the 700(-ish) pages feel transient. From altruistic levels of kindness to cataclysmic miscommunications, it would be an injustice to reduce these characters to a fragment of the imagination when – through their distinctions of behaviour and thought processes – they are an opportunity for us to look within. How can something be forgotten when it embodies such a myriad of authentic sentiment, eventually becoming an extension of ourselves?
A Little Life is less an acknowledgment of the peaks and troughs of living, but an account of how our past and the people we choose to surround ourselves with plays into every fragment of our being. Yes, the book is subversive and of its own, but it is also an example of how acts of unconditional love can ultimately carry us through the darkness and provide a light of solace when we – sometimes unknowingly – need it most.