A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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Please note: This review is not written by David Bainbridge.

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“A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara is a deeply disturbing and gratuitously graphic novel that preys on the reader’s emotions without any real substance or literary value.

The story follows a group of self-involved, affluent friends as they navigate their lives in New York City. The focal point of the novel is Jude, a young man with a traumatic past that is slowly revealed over the course of the book. However, instead of providing insight into the complexities of trauma and its effects on the individual, Yanagihara relies on horrific and violent scenes of abuse that seem to be included for shock value and little else.

The characters are one-dimensional and lack any real depth or development. Their relationships seem contrived and their actions lack motivation. The long, meandering prose feels like a never-ending slog that delivers little payoff. The repetitive descriptions of physical and emotional pain become tiresome and ultimately nullify any potential impact on the reader.

Moreover, the novel’s portrayal of mental health is deeply problematic and can be triggering for some readers. The relentless focus on Jude’s self-harm and suicidal tendencies presents mental illness in a sensationalized and dehumanizing way, rather than as a nuanced and complex issue that requires deeper examination.

Shame on the literary community

The literary community’s overwhelming praise of “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara reveals a dangerous trend of valuing shock value over well-crafted storytelling and meaningful themes.

While the novel does tackle important issues such as trauma and mental illness, these themes are often buried beneath gratuitous depictions of violence and pain. The graphic scenes of abuse and self-harm seem designed to elicit a visceral reaction rather than genuinely engage with these sensitive topics in a meaningful way. Yet, many members of the literary community have seemed to fawn over these very scenes as if the mere presence of such extreme content is in itself a badge of artistic merit.

This use of shock value as a substitute for genuine literary substance is a worrying trend and it becomes particularly alarming when combined with the uncritical laudations of Yanagihara’s writing that have permeated the literary community. In their eagerness to praise a supposedly “challenging” and “ambitious” work, many reviewers and critics have overlooked the serious flaws in the novel’s storytelling, characterization, and treatment of sensitive topics.

It’s also important to note that the novel’s status as a bestseller and critical darling has served to reinforce the dominance of certain perspectives within the literary community. As a result, writers from underrepresented communities whose works tackle similar themes in a more nuanced and sensitive manner are often eclipsed by the blunt force of Yanagihara’s novel.

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The literary community’s near-universal praise for “A Little Life” represents a troubling trend toward valuing shock value over genuine literary skill and meaningful engagement with complex issues. This trend not only harms literary discourse but also disproportionately elevates the perspectives of particular cultural and social groups.

In conclusion, “A Little Life” falls far short of its hype and ultimately feels like a manipulative and exploitative novel that substitutes cheap shock for genuine insight. Readers seeking a thoughtful exploration of trauma, mental health, and the human experience will be sorely disappointed.

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