Author(s): Hanya Yanagihara
Shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize 'Astonishing and unsettling ...A masterwork' San Francisco Chronicle 'Announces Yanagihara as a major American novelist' Wall Street Journal Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome-but that will define his life forever. In a remarkable and precise prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.
This is an epic, epic work of fiction - possibly the best-written book I've ever read, and certainly one of the most stunning. I spent most of July immersed, and two weeks later I am still left breathless by its impact. While the writing itself is not hard, I found the content emotionally draining; the casual, constant (although very seldom graphic) acts of abuse, mostly self-inflicted, but also mental, sexual and physical. I did at times skip paragraphs, or pages. The story initially follows four friends fresh out of a prestigious New England college: confident, brash JB, an artist making ends meet working on the reception desk of an art magazine; confused, sensitive Malcolm, a brilliant architect struggling with his sexuality and race; beautiful, sweet Willem, a waiter and actor grieving the loss of his brother; and Jude, lawyer, mathematician, musician, hiding a dark and tortured past. However it soon becomes clear that JB, Malcolm and even Willem are support players to the larger horror that is Jude's story. Comparisons have been made to Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, and I can see how the two stories are similar, but where reading The Goldfinch was on occasion like slogging through a muddy paddock, A Little Life is like rafting a river in full flood, on acid. It's one hell of a ride but so absolutely worthwhile. - Lucy
“What he knew, he knew from books, and books lied, they made things prettier.”- A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. The irony is that this is not a book that makes things prettier. This book is the best I’ve read so far this year and one of the best that I’ve ever read. I can’t do it justice in a short review, so this one is going to be longer than usual. The short version is that it’s thoroughly engrossing, shattering, epic in every sense, and beyond what I thought literature could do. However, there are certain things that you need to consider before picking it up because it is a very difficult book to read. I heard this novel reviewed a couple of weeks before it was released in the States and just knew that I had to get my hands on it. This particular reviewer, a dedicated fan of Donna Tartt, said that A Little Life was better than The Goldfinch, and, having just finished it, I wholeheartedly agree. Any review of this book has to start with a warning though. A Little Life deals with some of the most difficult sides of humanity. Yanagihara confronts every type of abuse in this novel: psychological, physical, sexual, drug, and (particularly) self-inflicted. It is not an easy read, nor one that anyone should enter into lightly. I lost sleep over this book, both thinking about it and compulsively reading late into the night. Even when I wasn’t actually reading I was with these characters. The story itself follows four college friends living in New York in the 21st Century (there are no references to real-world events that would allow for a more accurate time period). The novel spans decades of these characters’ lives, beginning in their early twenties, and also contains flashbacks. One of the four characters, Jude, is the enigma of the group. They know very little about his childhood, but guess that something traumatic must have happened to him. Jude also has an injury that he never talks about, but that causes him a great deal of pain. All four friends are high-flyers professionally (lawyer, actor, architect, and artist) and we see the progression of their careers as well as their loves and losses. The thing that makes this book is the characterisation. It doesn’t take long to become completely engaged in the characters’ stories, particularly Jude’s. We see how Jude perceives himself, as well as how others see him, which is fascinating as well as heart-breaking. These characters are so well fleshed-out, so believable and so real. They all have their flaws and we see them doing things that are hurtful and damaging, intentionally and accidentally. Yanagihara does this to the extent that you are guaranteed to feel a deep emotional connection to most, if not all of the main characters. A Little Life has been compared to The Goldfinch and there are many comparable aspects. The tone is similar, particularly at the beginning, and it is set in New York at a similar time. It also follows a very well-written protagonist. The main similarities as far as I can see are way that the characters are depicted with such detail and understanding, the attachment you feel with them, and the fact that there are very few female characters (something that would annoy me in other writers, but for some reason I make an exception for Tartt and Yanagihara). In other ways it is very different from The Goldfinch. I know that a lot of people found that Tartt’s story really dragged in the middle, but that really isn’t the case with Yanagihara. Although there were times when I had to set it down temporarily because it was too intense - it is a page-turner. - Holly
Lucy was so enthusiastic about this book that I felt I needed to read it. She warned me that it wasn’t an easy read and that some of the content was dreadful. She was right - this was another gruelling read and almost enough to make me go to bed with a cold flannel on my forehead and stay under the covers for some time. The fact that this is fiction, that someone had actually made this up, exhausted me and made me feel quite despairing. Question 1 to self: isn’t there enough ghastliness in the world without someone making up more? Answer: Obviously not (please note that A Little Life is on the Booker short list so its significance has been recognised). Question 2 to self: Was this worth reading, and if yes, why? Answer: This is worth reading for several reasons: Firstly, it is beautifully written and completely engrossing. A Little Life is about men. Men surrounded by more men. The men are rich, powerful and influential in their various fields. They mainly live in New York where time seems to have stood still. Where you might ask is 9/11? And are there no crises in the world for them to comment on? The action stays with the men. The relationships between the men and the men surrounding the men are rich and complex – mostly. Yanagihara manages the male voice extremely well and is utterly convincing. It did seem unusual to have a female writer writing almost completely in the male voice. And the women? They are there, but are very much in the background, mainly passive and we never really learn anything interesting (or not interesting) about them. I found this strange that the lives of four men were so dissected and so emptied of female input and influence. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about the book and especially about the main character, Jude St Francis. When Lucy finished this book she said we must discuss it – we haven’t done that yet. I am still turning the whole book over and over in my mind. Uplifting? Not at all. Good writing? Oh yes. Would I recommend it? Yes, but make sure you are feeling robust when you start. - Marie
A tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.
Man Booker Finalist 2015
US National Book Awards Longlist 2015
Baileys Longlist 2016
Utterly gripping. Wonderfully romantic and sometimes harrowing, A Little Life kept me reading late into the night, night after night -- Edmund White One of the pleasures of fiction is how suddenly a brilliant writer can alter the literary landscape ... Ms. Yanagihara's immense new book ... announces her, as decisively as a second work can, as a major American novelist. Here is an epic study of trauma and friendship written with such intelligence and depth of perception that it will be one of the benchmarks against which all other novels that broach those subjects (and they are legion) will be measured. In recent years, only Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels have confronted with similarly enduring power the long aftermath of abuse (and the sleepless duties required in loving abuse victims). But while Mr. St. Aubyn's writing relies on matador-like thrusts of barbed irony, A Little Life achieves its lasting effect with calm, thoroughgoing realism. There's an amazing sense of totality in the portrayals here, and in Jude especially. He is fragmented by fear and shame, but Ms. Yanagihara depicts him as a man in full. His life, the precarious essence of this important novel, is not less than an odyssey of survival Wall Street Journal Martin Amis once asked, "Who else but Tolstoy has made happiness really swing on the page?" And the surprising answer is that Hanya Yanagihara has: counterintuitively, the most moving parts of "A Little Life" are not its most brutal but its tenderest ones, moments when Jude receives kindness and support from his friends ... "A Little Life" feels elemental, irreducible-and, dark and disturbing though it is, there is beauty in it -- Jon Michaud New Yorker How often is a novel so deeply disturbing that you might find yourself weeping, and yet so revelatory about human kindness that you might also feel touched by grace? Yanagihara's astonishing and unsettling second novel ... plumbs the rich inner lives of all of her characters... You don't just care deeply about all these lives. Thanks to the author's exquisite skill, you feel as if you are living them ... A Little Life is about the unimaginable cruelty of human beings, the savage things done to a child and his lifelong struggle to overcome the damage. Its pages are soaked with grief, but it's also about the bottomless human capacity for love and endurance ... It's not hyperbole to call this novel a masterwork - if anything that word is simply just too little for it San Francisco Chronicle [The] spring's must-read novel ... Her debut ... put her on the literary map, her massive new novel ... signals the arrival of a major new voice in fiction ... Her achievement has less to do with size than with her powerful evocation of the fragility of self ... the pained beauty that suffuses this novel, an American epic that eloquently counters our culture's fixation with redemptive narratives. Vogue US The triumph of A Little Life's many pages is significant: It wraps us so thoroughly in a character's life that his trauma, his struggles, his griefs come to seem as familiar and inescapable as our own. There's no one way to experience loss, abuse, or the effects of trauma, of course, but the vividness of Jude's character and experiences makes the pain almost tangible, the fall-out more comprehensible. It's a monument of empathy, and that alone makes this novel wondrous Huffington Post Often painful but thoroughly brilliant ... Yanagihara's massive new novel ... is hurtful. That's because, among other things, it is the enthralling and completely immersive story of one man's unyielding pain. It also asks a compelling question: Can friends save us? Even from ourselves? ... Yanagihara's close study of [her characters'] lives and Jude's trauma makes for a stunning work of fiction New York Daily News This spellbinding, feverish novel sucks you in ... One of the most compassionate, moving stories of our time ... An exquisitely written, complex triumph Oprah.com A darkly beautiful tale of love and friendship... I've read a lot of emotionally taxing books in my time, but A Little Life ... is the only one I've read as an adult that's left me sobbing. I became so invested in the characters and their lives that I almost felt unqualified to review this book objectively ... There are truths here that are almost too much to bear - that hope is a qualified thing, that even love, no matter how pure and freely given, is not always enough. This book made me realize how merciful most fiction really is, even at its darkest, and it's a testament to Yanagihara's ability that she can take such ugly material and make it beautiful Los Angeles Times Capacious and consuming ... Boast[s] a scale and immersive power to rival the recent epics of Donna Tartt and Elizabeth Gilbert ... Alternately devastating and draining, A Little Life floats all sorts of troubling questions about the responsibility of the individual to those nearest and dearest and the sometime futility of playing brother's keeper. Those questions, accompanied by Yanagihara's exquisitely imagined characters, will shadow your dreamscapes Boston Globe An extraordinary book ... A Little Life is quite deliberately a fable, not social realism ... and all the more powerful for it. The truths it tells are wrenching, permanent. -- David Sexton Evening Standard A Little Life makes for near-hypnotically compelling reading, a vivid, hyperreal portrait of human existence that demands intense emotional investment ... An astonishing achievement: a novel of grand drama and sentiment, but it's a canvas Yanagihara has painted with delicate, subtle brushstrokes. Independent Hanya Yanagihara's no-holds-barred second novel A Little Life has established her as a major new voice in US fiction. -- Tim Adams Observer A singularly profound and moving work ... It's not often that you read a book of this length and find yourself thinking "I wish it was longer" but Yanagihara takes you so deeply into the lives and minds of these characters that you struggle to leave them behind. -- Fiona Wilson The Times This is an impressive and moving novel. -- Hannah Rosefield Literary Review A Little Life is Jude's story and it's his sorrow that colours this devastating, exhausting, strangely exhilarating novel. It's not in any way consoling but it is vitally compelling. -- Eithne Farry Daily Express How many times a year are you blown away by a book? That feeling that you can't stop reading, that your life might be a little bit changed? ... I felt in the presence of genius, and 14 sleepless hours later I inhaled the last few sentences knowing I had found a masterpiece ... Objectively, parts of this are a gruelling read, but such is the author's skill that the pages do seem to turn themselves as we race towards finding out the terrible secrets of Jude's dark trauma... I will be heading to the barricades if this doesn't win prizes galore -- Cathy Rentzenbrink The Bookseller Has so much richness in it - great big passages of beautiful prose, unforgettable characters, and shrewd insights into art and ambition and friendship and forgiveness Entertainment Weekly Astonishing ... tender, torturous and achingly alive to the undeniable pain that can scar a life. Psychologies The clarity of Yanagihara's prose is perfect for dissecting blind ambition, the consolations of work and money, and how these paper over the cracks of fragile, fractured individuals ... A Little Life is unlike anything else out there ... Quite simply unforgettable. -- James Kidd Independent on Sunday This new book is long, page-turny, deeply moving, sometimes excessive, but always packed with the weight of a genuine experience. As I was reading, I literally dreamed about it every night ... The book's driven obsessiveness is inseparable from the emotional force that will leave countless readers weeping ... A wrenching portrait of the enduring grace of friendship. With her sensitivity to everything from the emotional nuance to the play of light inside a subway car, Yanagihara is superb at capturing the radiant moments of beauty, warmth and kindness that help redeem the bad stuff. In A Little Life, it's life's evanescent blessings that maybe, but only maybe, can save you National Public Radio Once she has you, Yanagihara is not going to let you go ... Yanagihara ... contains multitudes. She seems able to imagine anything ... A Little Life ... is, in its own dark way, a miracle Newsday At its heart A Little Life is a fairy tale that pits good against evil, love against viciousness, hope against hopelessness. The cruelty of the life Ms Yanagihara describes is trumped only by the tenacity with which she searches for an answer. The Economist The reader is pulled along by its express-train pace ... it's certainly a great book. -- John Harding Daily Mail The first must-read novel of the year ... The way to describe a novel you like, maybe the quickest way, is to say that you can't put it down. People say that all the time. There are also novels that compel trickier, but no less passionate, emotions. They are books that confront you and make you wrestle with them. You might feel protective of the characters and their fates; maybe you feel like the writer is talking directly to, or about, you and you are delighted but spooked about what the writer might reveal. There is no shorthand phrase for a novel that seduces you even as it frightens, guts, exhausts, and disgusts you. A Little Life is the most devastating but satisfying novel published so far this year ... Finishing its 720 pages is like finishing one of the doorstop novels of 19th-century Russia: you feel worn out but wide awake -- (Cover Story) Kirkus Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life is the thinking person's big book of the year so far, a long, complex and pretty dark look at the intertwined lives of four college friends. It reminds me of The Corrections, or a starker The Interestings, or a more linear work by David Foster Wallace. Really. It's that huge and important Amazon.com Set to become one of the year's most talked-about novels ... The narrative is transporting. -- Alex Clarke ES Magazine Utterly compelling ... quite an extraordinary novel. It is impossible to put down ... And it is almost impossible to forget. -- Mernie Gilmore Daily Express A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, will be one of those books people ask you if you've read yet. Beat 'em to the punch South Coast Today Utterly enthralling ... The phrase "tour de force" could have been invented for this audacious novel Kirkus (Starred Review) Emerging from horror, persistent and enduring, is a touching, eternal, unconventional love story. -- Maria Crawford Financial Times [A] wholly immersive unforgettable read ... You won't stop reading. And it's a novel that changes you. Evening Standard A Little Life asks serious questions about humanism and euthanasia and psychiatry and any number of the partis pris of modern western life. It's Entourage directed by Bergman; it's the great 90s novel a quarter of a century too late; it's a devastating read that will leave your heart, like the Grinch's, a few sizes larger. -- Alex Preston Observer Transporting ... A Little Life is not to be missed. -- Alex Clark Evening Standard Deeply moving ... A Little Life interrogates notions of value and happiness as espoused by the 21st century American dream ... Extraordinarily rich. The National A book that demands to be read. -- James Daunt Wall Street Journal Beautifully rendered ... Unlike anything I've read before. -- Alex Preston, 'A vintage year for the novel' Observer A remarkable tale of love, friendship and the difficulties of embracing life when everything conspires against your right to happiness. Sunday Herald
Hanya Yanagihara is the author of The People in the Trees. She is an editor-at-large at Conde Nast Traveller and lives in New York City.