Thoughts on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Paperback copy of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara on a grey tasseled blanket

Trigger warnings for self harm and abuse

Usually I struggle to write reviews for books, as I find it difficult to articulate my thoughts, themes and synopsis without going overboard on adjectives. As a way to develop my writing skills, I write mini reviews on Good Reads and apart from the times when I can’t be bothered, I have noticed an improvement. A Little Life has left me so conflicted that for the first time I actually have a lot to say about it.

Book reviews aren’t about to become a regular occurrence on my blog but getting my thoughts down was useful as there was a lot to unpack.

Mini Synopsis

A Little Life follows the lives of four college room mates – Willem, Jude, JB & Malcolm who move to New York, concentrating mainly on Jude and his tortured past.

Torture Porn

My sister did warn me about the unnecessary abuse and violence, and I agree that the detail from Yanagihara was regularly too much. One of the self harm scenes was so graphic that I can’t un-see it. As someone who has self harmed in the past, the way it was written was more often than not fetishisising a very serious aspect of mental illness.

Whilst Willem not knowing how to help Jude, as his friend was plausible. I could not, however, get behind his doctor not knowing how to help him. Anyone else in Jude’s situation would have been immediately admitted to a psychiatric ward. There were even points that I struggled to believe that Jude could still be alive.

But then, A Little Life offered a very accurate depiction of mental illness, especially of someone who has experience such catastrophic abuse in their life. In a lot of novels, people overcoming trauma is shown in a very linear way.

The Happy Years

Is a lie! One of the final parts is called The Happy Years which felt like the biggest deception. I felt empty and numb to what had happened to Jude, and then everyone else was just making things worse. Other readers said they couldn’t stop crying but by the end of The Happy Years I was completely drained.

Character Exploration

The length alone of A Little Life (720 pages and small font) will put many people off. There are many reviews which state that there is too much repetition but I never felt this was the case. Apart from the detail of torture, I found Yanagihara’s character exploration compelling and you want to find out where each of them end up. I do wish there had been more of Malcolm but I guess his life just wasn’t traumatic enough.

The Past

Rather than a lot of fiction where you get a characters backstory in one go, Jude’s past is weaved between the present day narrative. Jude’s past is a horror story and not one that I would wish for anyone but layering his early life throughout the course of the novel shows how abusers manipulate and the effect this has on the abused.

My final rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A beautiful character exploration but the excessive detail of trauma and lack of light relief has completely drained me.

A Little Life definitely isn’t going to be for everyone and if you are currently battling with your own demons then I would opt for something light hearted for the time being.

Have you read A Little Life? What were your thoughts?


  1. I too struggle with book review —I read a LOT and I want to share some of my recommendations but it is quite hard to do it! You have done a great job with this review —I was intending to read this book but just finished a nearly 800 pages with small front and I need a break😄 X

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much! They are so difficult, aren’t they! Practice really does make perfect though.
    Blimey, that’s a long one. I only have patience for about two long reads a year. Sounds like a good idea to have a break! x


    1. Thank you for such a lovely comment ❤ There are a lot of people who love A Little Life but I would rather be honest than pretend just to fit in. Those warnings need to be given, they should put a warning on the book, it's very traumatic!


  3. I was meaning to read this. Since last one year, it’s being sitting in my drawer. I read a few pages and I agree with you, it’s mentally draining.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. In college, I used to read Stephen King. I would be so engrossed in it, sometimes, i would forget which reality i’m in. And then, I read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which got me depressed for few days. Since then I’ve realized the effect that books can have on our minds. I no more read the books which are mentally taxing.

        Liked by 1 person

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