Cape Times

‘A Little Life’ is unlike anything else, and simply unforgetta­ble


A LITTLE LIFE Hanya Yanagihara

Picador Price: R389 (

Reviewer: James Kidd

HANYA Yanagihara’s first book, The People in the Trees, was a brilliant novel that confronted the worst excesses of male hubris through restraint and excision. Yanagihara’s follow-up, A Little Life, which has been long listed for the Man Booker Prize, approaches similar subject matter, but from the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Just about every page is saturated with trauma: child abuse, rape, domestic violence, dysfunctio­nal families, addiction, self-harm, suicide and grief.

The effect is heightened after the novel’s opening, which describes a touching love square between actor Willem, volatile artist-in-waiting JB, Malcolm, who is steady but anxious, and Jude, the enigma within this novel’s riddle.

About a quarter of the way in, JB and Malcolm retreat from the limelight, which burns ever more brightly on Willem and blindingly on Jude.

Jude’s duplicity is helped by the conspicuou­s nature of his material success. A poster boy for the American Dream, he earns a fairy tale education, fairy tale friends, fairy tale job, fairy tale flat, and a fairy tale boyfriend.

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. So it is with Jude, a self-harmer whose wrecked body can hardly withstand the incisions he makes.

If Yanagihara writes sharply on external rewards of accomplish­ment, her chiaroscur­o style is even more unflinchin­g when detailing Jude’s secret world of violence.

“Before he had been taught to cut himself, there was a period in which he would toss himself against the wall outside… again and again until he sagged, exhausted, to the ground, and his left side was permanentl­y stained blue and purple and brown with bruises.”

The percussive over-abundance of that sentence might describe A Little Life as a whole.

The reader too will sag exhausted to the ground, overwhelme­d by how much pain one human can endure. I shared the frustratio­ns of Jude’s friends, but like them I could not look away, so completely did Yanagihara’s world convince.

Proof that sometimes in art more really is more, A Little Life is unlike anything else out there. Over the top, beyond the pale and quite simply unforgetta­ble. – Independen­t

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 ??  ?? BEYOND THE PALE: Hanya Yanagihara’s novel has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
BEYOND THE PALE: Hanya Yanagihara’s novel has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

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