Content Warning: This episode contains discussions of self-harm, violence, abuse, and suicide.
As a reader who occasionally enjoys judging books by their covers, I remember the curiosity I felt looking at Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life (2015) for the first time. Our 35th reader was also transfixed by the cover subject’s expression of both pleasure and pain, and found herself asking: “What could this possibly be about?!”
The answer to that question is revealed as we become more familiar with the novel’s four central characters: Jude, Malcolm, JB, and Willem. Interest in Jude’s tragic and mysterious life becomes the novel’s focus, and readers find themselves stretched and pulled in a vortex of loss and unrelenting pain.
Our 35th reader and I discuss Yanagihara’s representation of violence and trauma, the novel’s sentimentality and sensationalism, claims that A Little Life is “the great gay novel”, the importance of representation, and whether one can read the book a second time.
“If you’re interested in accessing something that feels extremely raw and human, and you’re able to go to that place for a little while, it does wrench something open for a lot of people…It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, and it shouldn’t have to be, but it’s a dose of something and it’s worth trying.”
The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James