This post contains affiliate links, because I like money, but I s2g I wrote this post before adding the affiliate links and the monetization does not affect my opinions.
[EDIT: After learning a bit more about the author, I find that I can no longer recommend this book to anyone, at all.
When author Hanya Yanagihara was asked if she did any research into the effects of abuse, so that she could accurately portray Jude’s psychological state as a survivor of abuse, she replied, “I didn’t do any research.” In my opinion, this alone renders A Little Life completely vulgar. For an artist depicting abuse to do nothing in the way of studying abuse, to dedicate literally zero attention to abuse and actual victims of abuse – to instead imagine the effects that abuse might have, without verifying that those musings are rooted in truth – feels incredibly disrespectful.
It makes me wonder why someone who doesn’t have first-hand experience with abuse and who took no time to research abuse and its effects would write a novel about graphic abuse.
In an article that mentions Yanagihara’s childhood experiences with viewing cadavers at a morgue, she’s quoted as saying “Disease really fascinates me, what an invader can do to the host body from an imperial perspective but also as an infection…” and “I love discovering how far a body will go to protect itself, at all costs. How hard it fights to live.” I understand that a fascination with disease and bodily functions is important for medical reasons, but because I know Yanagihara wrote A Little Life after doing no research, her comment is straight-up appalling. It reinforces my perception that she wrote this novel for the sole purpose of entertaining her fascination with how much a person can suffer. I find it crass and sensationalist, in the same way that films that depict graphic and gratuitous violence against women are crass and sensationalist. Life is terrible enough and abusive survivors don’t exist for anyone’s amusement; the world doesn’t need torture porn disguised as art, especially not when the artist has made so little effort in examining readily available facts or at least personal interviews that might inform a story about abuse.
Perhaps I’m reading into her comments. I haven’t spoken to Yanagihara personally and asked whether she meant to write a novel about graphic abuse that ends in suicide for her personal enjoyment. But given what she’s said in interviews, it makes me sick to know this book was written by her, and I strongly suggest you do not read it.]
(While I’m not actually acquainted with Lottie in real life (or online), I trust her literary tastes, based on the fact that she’s responsible for my reading The Song of Achilles: A Novel by Madeline Miller and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, both of which are GORGEOUS.) And while this book at times rendered me catatonically devastated, ultimately, it didn’t leave me sunk in a depression about the pointlessness of life, &c., &c. that so many other readers have mentioned experiencing. In fact, it made me feel hopeful, and mortal, and grateful, and all “The Tail End,” and soul-achingly in love with Augustus. Perhaps that’s a reflection on my own cynical optimism about life (or optimistic cynicism?) – that it truly is pointless, that death will greet all of us someday, that there will be pain and suffering, that it will be tiring, that there are small, wonderful, precious moments, that loving other people is the best way to make your life feel full, that nothing is fair – perhaps if you’ve already accepted that goodness and suffering do not balance each other out, that they merely coexist, maybe you will enjoy this book. (I suspect you will appreciate it, either way.) In any case, I’ve taken up the habit of writing down words I don’t know and passages I like when I’m reading. So in the spirit of Maggie Mason’s “Best Parts” posts over at Mighty Girl, here are my reading notes from A Little Life: A Novel by Hanya Yanagihara.