Book Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara



Published by Doubleday New York 2015 ISBN 978 0 385 539258
Reviewed by Sheila Killoran

The people around Jude believe in therapy. They believe that therapy can help him, can save him, can save him from himself. Maybe if he had attend- ed therapy earlier it would not have failed. But, then maybe it did not fail…

In this novel, A Little Life, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, I personally was held and absorbed from beginning to end and it is a long book. I found myself concerned about what would happen next and in a cowardly way hoping that what had happened to Jude would not be too explicitly described. I found myself developing a deep connection with him which was akin to love. Finally, I understood and accepted that he is unable to allow himself to be loved.

Almost half way through we are given Jude’s thoughts on being single at forty: “Not having sex; it was one of the best things about being an adult” (305). What follows is the story of the two adult sexual relationships which he embarks upon.

The first part of the novel deals with his life and progression through his twenties and thirties. He is surrounded by a solid group of college friends. As his story unfolds we see that it is these friendships, his relationships with his doctor and his college professor that rescue him so that he will go on living.

The author presents a world in which ‘family’ is not central. A community of adult friends replaces the function of family in Jude’s life.

Parts of the book are not easy to read. In an interview last year with Tim Adams, Yanagihara (2015) addresses the question of an author offending the reader by being too explicit: “What a reader can always tell is when you are holding back for fear of offending them. I wanted there to be something too much about the violence in the book, but I also wanted there to be an exaggeration of everything, an exaggeration of love, of empathy, of pity, of horror. I wanted everything turned up a little too high. I wanted it to feel a little bit…” This interview gives a fascinating account of how she was inspired to write the story.

This is Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel. She shows a sophisticated insight into the effects of early trauma on the pre-pubescent and adolescent male. Any therapist who has worked with clients who have suffered such trauma will identify with the helplessness, anger, puzzlement and despair of those who get close to the adult survivor of child sexual abuse.

Yanagihara, H. (2015). I wanted everything turned up a little too high. An interview with Hanya Yanagihara/Interviewer: Tim Adams. The Guardian. Retrieved 10 December 2015 from everything-turned-up-a-little-too-high-interview-a-little-life.