A Little Life was a hard read. Make no mistake, this is a good book – but it is such a heavy book – in terms of both themes and content. Trigger warnings are in order and you should really check it out (I’ve detailed it in my review post) before deciding to dive into this book because Hanya Yanagihara went for each of it ~hard~.
The emotions I felt reading this book in a matter of 5 days (I have to stop from time to time) were in an all time high. It is definitely up there in the most depressing and emotional book I’ve ever read – as well as the most emotional read I’ve ever had. It was cathartic, yes. But the experience is not something I would actively recommend.
I am a serial highlighter and page tabber – but I might’ve gone a little overboard on this one. I also wrote a lot in this book and I’m glad I did. Below is a collection of my notes (I wanted to say “marginalia” but it sounds so pretentious) as well as the little entries I had in my journal while reading this:
(It goes to say that the following notes contain spoilers because these are just real-time thoughts. If you haven’t read this book yet and want to know what I think of A Little Life, please read my non-spoiler review.)
1. Page 153 – Jude is really lucky to have met all of these people. Damn.
2. Page 158 – “He already knew why they had happened: they had happened because he had deserved them.” This is really fucked up.
3. Page 165 – “…and that his future self might be something bright and clean, when he knew so little but had such hope, and faith that his hope might one day be rewarded.” I cant understand how someone can be this optimistic and hopeless at the same time.
4. Page 177 – Jude is breaking my heart. The amount of trauma Jude has endured in his life is making my life look like a joke. It makes me sad how little he thinks of himself. How he things he deserve it. How he thinks it’s all because of him and that he deserve every bit of it. Because he DOES NOT.
5. Page 192 – I love Harold with all my heart. His passion as a teacher. His care and love for Jude. Agh. Reading his letters to Willem recounting his moments with Jude is intensifying the heartbreak.
6. Page 214 – Imagine being so young and already trying so hard for people to like you just for the chance to get adopted. And then when no one picks them, they would feel as if there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. As if it’s their fault. God, these kids are breaking my heart. I would never see adoption the same way.
7. Page 222 – I love Andy.
8. Page 236 – “The patron saint of lost causes.” And I’m triggered once again. This always takes me back to my board exam days.
9. Page 291 – God, this book is really making me feel emotional as fuck. Makes me realize how important it is to find people that truly cares for you through thick and thin. The way Malcolm designed Jude’s house based on his needs is really something.
10. Page 320 – Why are they competing on who has the most tragic shit? My God. These people are breaking my heart.
THE AXIOM OF EQUALITY
11. Page 334 – This is why EMPATHY (if I am using it correctly) is very important.
12. Page 373 – WTF!
13. Page 381 – My God. The way Jude is convinced that he is ugly and doesn’t deserve anything. Damn it, internalized trauma is really hitting hard. I hate Caleb. I HATE HIM!!!
14. Page 383 – WTF WTF WTF CALEB!!!
15. Page 386 – “The axiom of equality.” God that was so hard to read. It was so violent. I don’t think I’ll be able to reread this shit. “x=x”
16. Page 408 – This is the first time that I am (somewhat) understanding the rationale of those who cut themselves. I have this weird sense that people are doing it for the attention, and I’ve always felt guilty about it – but then, reading this, I am realizing that some people really find it as a necessity.
17. Page 431 – I can’t get over how Hanya Yanagihara was able to capture trauma so vividly and accurately. I know it is different in each person but the way she describes it is so close to my own. The way to deal with the memories. And how those memories attack you when you least expect it – and somehow, those moments are worse.
18. Page 454 – WTF! By this point I should’ve already stopped being so shocked but I still can’t help it. It never gets easier to read these things.
19. Page 463 – How convinced Jude is about his self worth. I wonder how can someone be so convinced that he was worthless and that he doesn’t deserve everything he has. It was heartbreaking. I probably won’t be able to reread any of this. Gosh.
20. Page 475 – WTF!
21. Page 480 – At last, the crazy depressing things are over. God. I won’t be able to forget The Axiom of Equality. It was almost 200 pages of pain. God, that was so dragging.
THE HAPPY YEARS
22. Page 494 – “A strong sense of self was detrimental, because an actor had to let the self disappear; he had to let himself be subsumed by a character.” This reminds me so much of that one Haruki Murakami sentiment/quote in his short story “Drive My Car”.
23. Page 509- Having work as a distraction. Yeah, I know the feels.
24. Page 522 – “Why, then, does he insist on revisiting and replaying events that had happened so long ago? Why can’t he not simply take pleasure in his present? Why must he so honor his past? Why does it become more vivid, not less, the further he moves from it?” – THIS.
25. Page 580 – Ugh I love Andy so much it hurts.
26. Page 586 – This tendency to always try to fix the other person. Is it always necessary to fix the other? Can we just “be”?
27. Page 642 – That’s an interesting thought.
28. Page 712 – Oh no.
29. Page 770 – “Willem Listening to Jude Tell a Story, Greene Street.” Can anyone turn this painting to reality? Ugh. This painting is breaking my heart. Jude is breaking my heart.
30. Page 777 – That sudden full circle with those lyrics. I cannot-
31. Page 780 – “I’m glad you know your life has meaning. […] I’m glad you know how wonderful you are.” How Jude can so easily say this to Willem but doesn’t even believe he [Jude] deserves any of it? How? I remember hearing Berne Brown’s claim in the lines that the amount of love and compassion you give others is only as much as the love and compassion you give yourself. What about this? Does it only work as a “default”? My heart.
32. Page 792 – The number of people that wants to try to keep Jude alive – to keep alive someone who is so determined to die. Makes me so sad.
33. Page 811 – Fuck. I know this will happen, but it doesn’t make it hurt less.
34. Page 813 – Harold and Julia. Huhu. What if Jude was able to tell it to them straight? Will he be able to live longer, and less miserable than he did?
35. Page 814 – “It isn’t only that he died, or how he died; it is what he died believing. And so I try to be kind to everything I see, and in everything I see, I see him.” My heart is dead. I feel hollow. What did I just subject myself into? I need sugar.
You know that one (of the two) method of overcoming something? Indulging in excess till you get tired of it? (The other one is detoxing.) I feel like reliving these feelings by typing each of the sentences above made everything feel lighter, maybe numbing me of the experience. I still don’t know what I am feeling but making this post definitely helped me let go of some things that stuck with me after reading this book. Now, off to happy times! 🌟