The 700-or-so pages of A Little Life that took Japanese-American author Hanya Yanagihara 18 months to write, open in a somewhat jaunty and recognisable manner: introducing four bright young things as they graduate college, their sights trained on big New York City careers.
Christian Lorentzen, in the London Review of Books, wrote that the characters "seem like stereotypical middle-class strivers plucked out of 1950s cinema", and indeed they slip into these careers somewhat easily, becoming a successful actor, painter, architect and lawyer. But soon the novel darkens, it jars and then it appals, becoming less about the four young men and more particularly about one of them: the one who won’t tell of why he limps, why he doesn’t have relationships, why he cuts. The one who won’t tell of his ugly childhood and why he fears he will never escape its horrors.
Yanagihara should be commended for creating a book that, despite being a shattering and difficult read, became a bestseller, was shortlisted for Man Booker Prize 2015 and won the Kirkus Prize in Fiction.