A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara, Worst Novel I’ve Read

A Little Life was the first book I read by Hanya Yanagihara, and it will definitely be the last. This book, which has become the worst novel I’ve read this year, disinclined me to read fiction, ever again.

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A Little Life tells the lives of four friends by putting one in the centre. We follow the lives of Jude the lawyer, JB the artist, Malcolm the architect and, Willem the actor since college, where they’ve met. The whole thing of this group, four of whom are different people, is to understand Jude’s problem and love him no matter what. I mean, almost.

I don’t want to give spoilers if you’re going to read A Little Life (Please, don’t.), but Jude obviously had a lot of bad things in his past. He doesn’t answer questions about his family or his past, hurts himself, but is loved by all. The author didn’t choose to focus on why Jude was so popular; you have to accept him as an angel as the reader.

A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara

As A Little Life progresses, we (finally) learn something about Jude. Jude, who doesn’t share his past with anyone, harms himself (and in fact contains a lot of oddities), becomes one of the most successful lawyers in New York. Ugh! Well, he manages to forget about his insecurities and his terrible past and practically becomes a superhero when he does his job. There’s no such thing! You don’t create a character like this; you cannot shape it as you wish; there’s something called reality! Anyway, I’m not going to give you guys any spoilers so I’ll just stop.

Obviously, it is easy to understand why A Little Life book is so popular. Plenty of savageries, plenty of pity, dark and pathetic past lives, a little American life, trillions of “I’m sorry”, billions of “talk to me”. A glimpse into the art world, acting and architecture, bizarre relationships, gay relationships, family, a main character miles away from reality. This screams bestseller and the author is not too bad. I’m sure A Little Life, the film or the show will come out soon. So you don’t have to read it. (Save your time, really.)

About the book: A Little Life

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. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its readers.

When four classmates 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.

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About the author: Hanya Yanagihara

Hanya Yanagihara is an American novelist, editor, and travel writer. She grew up in Hawaii. 

A fourth-generation resident of Hawaii, Yanagihara was born in Los Angeles, California. Her father, hematologist/oncologist Ronald Yanagihara, is from Hawaii and her mother was born in Seoul. Yanagihara is partly of Japanese descent through her father. As a child, Yanagihara moved frequently with her family, living in Hawaii, New York, Maryland, California, and Texas. She attended Punahou High School in Hawaii.

Following her graduation from Smith College in 1995, Yanagihara moved to New York and worked for several years as a publicist. She is the editor-in-chief of T: The New York Times Style Magazine. She has said that after she published the acclaimed literary bestseller A Little Life, people in the publishing industry were baffled by her decision to take a job at T.

Describing the publishing world as “a provincial community, more or less as snobby as the fashion industry,” she said, “I’d get these underhanded comments like, ‘Oh, I never knew there were words [in T magazine] worth reading.’” Previously she wrote and was an editor for Condé Nast Traveler before leaving in 2015 to become a deputy editor at T. Of working as an editor while writing fiction on the side, she says, “I’ve never done it any other way.”

Her first novel, The People in the Trees, based on the real-life case of the virologist Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, was praised as one of the best novels of 2013. Yanagihara’s A Little Life was published in March 2015, receiving predominantly favorable reviews. The book was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize for fiction, and won the 2015 Kirkus Prize for fiction.

Yanagihara was also selected as a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Fiction. A Little Life defied expectations by its editor, Yanagihara’s agent, and the author herself that it would not sell well. In addition to being critically acclaimed, it is beloved by readers themselves; as of January 2020, it has more than 148,000 largely positive reviews on GoodReads, with an average rating of 4.3 out of five.

One notable exception to the critical praise was Daniel Mendelsohn’s review for The New York Review of Books, which sharply critiqued A Little Life′s technical execution, its depictions of violence, which Mendelsohn found ethically and aesthetically gratuitous, and its position with respect to the representation of queer life or issues by a presumed-heterosexual author.

Mendelsohn’s review prompted a response from Gerald Howard, the book’s editor, taking issue not with Mendelsohn’s dislike of the book but “his implication that my author has somehow, to use his word, ‘duped’ readers into feeling the emotions of pity and terror and sadness and compassion,” and his implication that the book only appeals to “college students and recent graduates who have been coddled by a permissive and endlessly solicitous university culture into ‘see[ing] themselves not as agents in life but as potential victims’”. Mendelsohn responded by arguing that Howard should have “imposed as stringent an editorial oversight on his author as he would do on her reviewers.”

A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Reading Challenge 2019 – The Year of Women Writers

2 Comments

Thank you so much for finally saying that!!! I haven’t read the book (and not going to), but I was also very surprised by this apparent dissonance.

Like, since when Trauma is selective?!
The attachment injuries, Cptsd (and the other 194884 problems he had), have a huge impact on ones life as a whole, you’re not getting to choose what areas in life are gonna be damaged because of it!

How does it even possible for him to function perfectly during college/work?!
How does he even know how to fit into society, the norm, the conformity, etc –
While he’d never been taught the basics?
He’d never received the tools from his caregivers…

The author is trying to solve this nonsense by presenting the “therapy solution”? Really? Cause obviously, talking therapy is Known for being successful in treating trauma (NOT)!!!!!!! Jesus Christ.

It’s making me furious, cause the point she allegedly was trying to make, is that sometimes you just can’t cure trauma.
Yet, apparently, you CAN EASILY finish higher education, maintain a work routine and be perfectly consistent in a specific feild, just like that?!?! Hell no.

I don’t care how high your IQ is, it still doesn’t mean you’re not gonna be affected by such intense and awful trauma(s).

I literally barely finished my degree, and can’t stick to a job because of Cptsd, and it’s not nearly as horrible as the author’s main character.

Sorry for my English, not my native language.

It is an unrealistic, mediocre novel. There are excellent novels out there, and I’m glad you won’t waste your time on this. And I get why you’re furious; I am as well, ugh!

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