Afterthoughts: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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Spoilers ahead.

Oh Jude …

I have never felt so utterly helpless reading a piece of fiction. Yanagihara had me in a straitjacket, a helpless onlooker of the story of Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm. I cannot say enough about how incredibly well-written I found it to be. For as much as it is raw, disturbing, and unforgiving; it also allows itself to be hopeful, kind, and sanguine.

“It had always seemed to him a very plush kind of problem, a privilege, really, to consider whether life was meaningful or not.”

As I write this some 30 minutes after finishing the book, and despite being still 20-something: I have never felt so old. According to Libby, my reading app, I spent 20 hours on this. It is the shortest 20 hours I can recall having.

“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”

There is something elemental about these stories and characters. Each are fully-formed with hopes and fears, ambitions and insecurities. I don’t recall ever being so invested, so hopelessly in love, in as wide and as varied a cast of characters. But especially Jude, Willem, Harold, and Andy. They are a bunch that I anticipate will stick with me for a long while yet. I expect a book hangover for the ages, if I am to believe the community that has grown around the book.

“Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.”

I have read that many refer to this as one of the most depressing books in modern literature. While I understand that assessment, I don’t necessarily share in that sentiment. Don’t get me wrong, it is depressing and hatefully sad at points. Given that, it makes a difficult yet ultimately a rewarding and ever more beautiful one. I, whether consciously or subconsciously, focused on the the humanity of companionship, friendship, and family. A theme whose investigation is meticulous and proves sanguine against the backdrop of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse.

“…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”

I don’t think it will ever be possible for me to ever relay into words how this book made me feel, while I was reading it, and now having finished it. I felt like I was sucker-punched, again and again and again. In the brief respites, I found so much joy in the friendship and companionship between Jude had: with the boys, with Harold, with Lucien and eventually Sanjay, Citizen, and Rhodes. It might sound perplexing for the uninitiated, but for anyone who has read it, they will know exactly what I mean. I am still astounded with myself that I finished it. Especially given Yanagihara has been quoted as saying that she made the big intentionally laborious and long to almost test whether readers had the stomach to finish Jude’s story.

Dear …

Jude: I wouldn’t have anything to say to Jude. No words could possibly change anything about his life or the ways he sees it. I would just want to give him a hug, for as long as he found it tolerable, and be available 24/7 like Willem, JB, and Malcolm were for him.

Willem: The same with Willem. There is nothing to say, other than show that I feel for him, to be physically and emotional there for him.

Andy: I just want to be able to say thank you for all of his efforts over the years. What he did should be the exemplar for “going above and beyond” in terms of being a medical professional and being a friend.

Harold: I just want to hug him and never let him go, tell him it’s not his fault and that he gave Jude more than he could ever know.

JB & Malcolm: Half of the best crew a man can ask for, and from whom I learnt how fierce and loyal friendships can grow to be.


Recommended only if you are in a healthy mental headspace. It is unapologetically visceral and consuming. This makes it, what I imagine to be, a difficult read for most people. Those that do, however, will be rewarded with an unbelievably rich cast of characters that will effortlessly pull, contort, and stretch your heart strings to their breaking point. It wouldn’t be right to call this my favourite book, especially given how disturbing and painful a read it can be, rather it is the book I most care for in the world.

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