The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Notable Novels: “A Little Life”

“A Little Life” is an engrossing, intense tale of struggles and love.
Torch Photo / Celina Mullady

Hanya Yanagihara’s sophomore novel, “A Little Life,” is an engaging tale, encompassing themes of male relationships, trauma and support within friendships. Released in 2015, “A Little Life” was nothing short of controversial. When thinking about reading “A Little Life, every reader should be aware of the triggering themes in the novel, such as self-harm, sexual assault and abuse.

Due to the novel’s heavy subject matter containing depictions of self-harm and sexual abuse, some people felt “A Little Life” depicted life with no redeeming qualities and was a story of trauma and not much more. While life seems highly dreary in the novel, and trauma is a key theme, we see tales of success, love, friendship and ambition intertwined. 

The novel focuses on four college classmates, Jude St. Francis, Willem Ragnarsson, JB Baptiste- Marion and Malcolm Irvine. We follow the four friends throughout their lives, flashing from past to present.  In the novel’s first half, we observe the interpersonal relationships between the four, with frequently changing perspectives. All the men feel devoted to Jude, partly because he remains a mystery to them throughout their lives.

The novel’s focus soon moves mainly to Jude. More is uncovered about his abuse-filled past with every chapter. Contrary to many other novels at the time of its release, Yanagihara includes graphic details; the reading becomes extremely intense in these sections. She goes on to describe the unhealthy coping methods Jude uses to deal with his past traumas, specifically self-harm.

In their adult lives, Willem and Jude become extremely close. As the story progresses, we see Willem become a voice of reason for Jude. The four friends flow in and out of contact over the years, except Willem and Jude, who are connected for the novel. We see them fight and rekindle their friendships throughout their lives.

One of the best things about the novel is the writing itself. Yanagihara’s prose is clear and concise, creating detailed scenes and immersing the reader in the novel. She creates an intimate connection between the readers and the characters, making them feel like real people.

In the second chapter, “The Postman,” the author stops saying who the chapter is about; she simply says “he.” She creates immensely detailed backgrounds and traits of all the characters, allowing the readers to know who the perspective switches to. This exact aspect makes the novel an intense and tender read. 

With all the themes discussed within the novel, the core message of “A Little Life” is that a person’s life is valuable and is impacted by the people around them for better or worse. The novel preaches that surrounding yourself with people who love and support you is one of the most essential things in life.

At 720 pages with extremely heavy and triggering themes, the novel is nowhere near a light read, and anyone considering reading the novel should be warned of the subject matter and the traumatic events. However, within the novel, little moments of success, hope and love make “A Little Life” a beautiful and rewarding read once finished.

Following the novel’s success, it was most recently made into a play adaptation in London’s West End. The play was filmed and is now being shown in cinemas across the UK and Europe. There are no plans for “A Little Life” to be shown in the United States, despite the large following the novel has in the United States.

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    CatieDec 13, 2023 at 11:55 am

    best review for this book by far