The first thing that is immediately apparent about Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel, A Little Life, is that it has been incorrectly named: There is nothing little about this novel—not the lives depicted within it or the size of its author’s ambitions and talents. And not the page count, either. It is a hulking doorstop of a book, perfect for the reader who likes to burrow into a book for weeks at a time.
If such an expansive novel must be reduced to an overly simplified summary, A Little Life charts the lives and friendships of a group of four men—JB, Malcolm, Willem and Jude—who meet their freshman year of college and then orbit one another for decades thereafter. It is a novel that delves deep into all the moments that make up a life, from the quiet to the loud, the glorious and the shameful, exploring the things that make a person who he is while simultaneously breaking him as well. Monumentally epic in its detail and scope, it is a book about friendship, courage, redemption, aging, desperation, family, love.
Written in luminous prose that is becoming Yanagihara’s hallmark, A Little Life is a gorgeous book that is, at times, shockingly horrific in its subject matter. In Yanagihara’s provocative debut, The People in the Trees, she took readers on a scandalously dark and painful journey, but her first novel seems rather tame when compared to the torments explored here. There are moments of lightness and beauty, yes, but do not go into this book expecting it to do anything other than break your heart—albeit in the most exquisite fashion. This book is not for every reader, but if you can withstand the maelstrom that is A Little Life, you will be rewarded with a thrillingly good read.
RELATED CONTENT: Read our interview with Hanya Yanagihara about A Little Life.