‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara


Genre: Fiction

I reviewed this book on the ABC radio program ‘Overnights’ in May 2016, contact me if you’d like to hear the full review (:

“He will be someone who is defined, first and always, by what he is missing.”
―Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

This is a novel take keep on your radar! Yanagihara is an up and coming American novelist and this is her second novel. A lot of publicity has been surrounding this book recently as she was a key speaker at the Sydney Writer’s Festival this year.

Set in New York this story follows four male friends after they graduate and move to New York: Jude, Malcolm, JB and Willem. You learn about the characters in different chapters. However, as the story progresses it narrows down to focus on one friend in particular, Jude as he establishes his life as a litagator and as we learn about his horrific childhood or torment and abuse. As the reader, we learn about how Jude learns to deal with these tragedies and we really understand the value he feels for his three friends as they are such a comfort to him.
There’s a mystical and fantasy elements to the which heightens both the good and the bad in the story. For example, the friendship of the four boys is so incredibly rare, the things they do for each other and how they realise early on that they need to actively work to keep their friendship alive. Even Yanaighara mentioned that this friendship was something she envied. Also some of the heroes of the book such as Harold even feel like the fairy godmother.These  almost feel like fairy god parents, too good to be true. This adds to the fable like quality of the story- like Jude being raised in a monastery- sometimes I felt like you needed to remove a sense of realism This of course in juxtaposed with some incredibly challenging personal events that these characters go through.
The torment in the book isn’t there without purpose, each event shaped Jude. So even though it can feel like it’s one blow after the other in the end you see how each event has forced him to act and behave in different ways in order to appear “normal”

Time is very elastic, sometimes it moves quickly (almost too fast, you feel like you’ve skipped a page) and other times she dwells on an evening page after page after page. Ironically, Yanighara has the intense structure for the book- 3 parts, 3 sections within these parts and then 3 sub-sections (that I actually had to go back and look over after heard her explain)

This is a reason I think she chose New York. It’s the only city where the characters could have both raging success and anonymity. The fantastical quality of “if you can make it hear you can make it anywhere” gives the sense of hope to the characters that she couldn’t get if she’d chosen a smaller, less cosmopolitan city

The ending felt incredibly satisfying, not tied up neatly like other books that deal with these kind of issues but instead like the story had reached fruition

This book is not for the faint hearted. Yanagihara mentioned in a review that it’s not an author’s responsibility to make her readers feel good, her job is simply to tell a story no matter how challenging that story is. In fact, Yanagihara even received some hate mail from readers saying the story has too much saddness. No matter how you feel about the book, one thing that cannot be denied is Yanagihara’s ability to get a reaction!


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