A not so little slice of life


A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara; Picador 2015

WHEN our dog Bingo clattered into a garden table while chasing a ball, causing terminal damage to wine glasses and a newly opened £14 bottle of white, I was led to reflect, not for the first time, on the wonderful value for money of books.

A Little Life belies its title by filling more than 700 pages. It enthralled me throughout the couple of weeks it took to read. It cost a mere £9.99 – substantially less than that short-lived Chablis – and there it still is on the shelf, ready to be enjoyed by me again and whoever wishes to borrow it. What a bargain.

I do not propose to summarise the plot since one of the joys of this book is gradually coming to realise how much you have assimilated about the characters and their lives in New York. In the elliptical early parts it is sometimes difficult to tell which of them is being described, but all becomes clear.

Some passages are beautiful, others upsetting in their description of self-harm and drug addiction. Yet the overall message is of the power of unconditional love, from parents, friends and partners.

Hanya Yanagihara, a 44-year-old Hawaiian American now working in New York as a magazine editor, writes wisely about the joys and responsibilities of parenthood and marriage – surprisingly so since as far as I can tell she is childless and lives alone. As with all the best long books, I became utterly absorbed in the lives of her characters and was sad to reach the end.

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