Episode 27 - Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life - Part 1


For the second Writing Life Podcast conversation with Hanya Yanagihara, we moved from tea at a posh London hotel to lunch at a posh(ish) London restaurant. This was not the only difference. Yanagihara had herself moved: jobs, from Conde Nast to the New York Times; and novels from her debut The People in the Trees to A Little Life, which has recently been long-listed for the Man Booker prize.

The conversation took place about a month before publication in the UK, but shortly after it was released in America to ecstatic reviews. I had recently been in New York and seen the novel everywhere. Well, mainly in bookstores, but on prominent display.

We begin - Hanya in mid-breadmunch - with her hero, Jude: 'I just wanted to write a character who never got better,' she tells me. From there, we shift focus to examine:

  • how A Little Life challenges current American beliefs in character development
  • on suffering and trauma
  • 'I do think there is a point where some people are too damaged to be alive'
  • Yanagihara's scepticism about therapy
  • Jude as lovable and frustrating
  • Jude vs The American Dream
  • on the rituals of self-harm and cutting
  • emotional overdrive: the challenge of reading A Little Life
  • 'It’s an exaggerated book. There is nothing subtle about the book. I really push the conventions of a literary novel, and the restraint of the contemporary literary novel.'
  • damage and the challenge of personhood
  • 'I'm sorry' and challenges of friendship
  • was writing a second novel easier than her debut
  • writing process and research
  • talking to people about careers
  • how personal is A Little Life?
  • (as I begin to serve carrots), how does friendship change over the decades?
  • love, marriage, relationships and friends
  • 'I am personally not interested in getting married'

Part 2 will follow in the nextfew days.

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