A Little Life Summary - Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life is a 2015 novel by American writer Hanya Yanagihara. Despite its length and difficult subject matters, it became a critically acclaimed best seller.

A Little Life follows a chronological narrative with flashbacks frequently interspersed throughout. The novel's narrative perspectives shift throughout the story's progression. During the beginning of the novel, a third-person omniscient perspective privileging the thoughts of Jude, Willem, JB and Malcolm is employed. As the story gradually shifts its focus towards Jude, its perspective progressively molds entirely around each character's interactions with Jude and the experiences of Jude himself. This literary perspective is punctuated by first-person narratives told by an older Harold, nine years in the future.


A Little Life Summary
A Little Life Summary


A Little Life Summary

Part 1 introduces four friends who have recently graduated from college: Jude St. Francis, Willem Ragnarsson, JB Marion, and Malcolm Irvine. While the four are close, differences in background sometimes create distances between them. Jude and Willem are both from modest backgrounds—Willem’s parents moved to Wyoming from Eastern Europe and worked as ranch hands until their deaths—while JB and Malcolm both come from wealthier families.

JB’s parents are both Haitian American, while Willem is white and Malcolm has a Black father and white mother. JB is gay, while Willem is straight and Malcolm is still trying to figure out his sexuality. None of them knows anything specific about Jude’s background—his family history, his sexuality, or even his race; he is an elusive and mysterious character in Part 1. The other three men work toward their professional goals: Willem is striving to be an actor, JB a visual artist, and Malcolm an architect. At the end of Part 1, Jude injures himself badly in what looks suspiciously like a suicide attempt despite his denials, creating the first glimpse into his troubled psyche.

Beginning in Part 2, the narrative shifts from focusing primarily on Jude’s three friends to focusing primarily on Jude. In this section, the reader not only learns that Jude habitually cuts himself, but also begins learning about his traumatic past. Abandoned by his parents outside a drugstore as a baby, he was taken in and raised by monks, who tolerated him at best and sexually abused him at worst. He also suffered a terrible injury that resulted in permanent spine damage that causes him leg pain and complications for the rest of his life. In the present day, Jude develops such a close relationship with one of his law professors, Harold, that Harold and his wife adopt Jude.

In Part 3, all four of the original friends’ careers are on the rise. Jude takes a job at a prestigious law firm, but his legs are getting worse, causing him so much pain that he often has to spend many consecutive days in his wheelchair. He purchases a loft apartment and hires Malcolm, now an architect with his own firm, to design and complete the renovations for it. JB, meanwhile, struggles with drug addiction despite his own successful career as a painter. His friends eventually stage an intervention, but JB insults Jude with a cruel impression of his limp, severing the friendship.

Part 4 is primarily devoted to a sexual relationship Jude enters into with a man named Caleb and that quickly becomes abusive. Caleb treats Jude’s disability with cruelty, accusing him of weakness, and eventually escalates to beating him. The worst, final beating leaves him unconscious and badly injured, needing hospitalization and bedrest for weeks afterward.

Eventually, the trauma from this relationship becomes too much to bear, and Jude attempts suicide but is discovered before he dies. In flashbacks, the reader sees that one of the monks at the monastery, Brother Luke, convinced Jude to run away with him and eventually began regularly raping him while also using him as a sex slave for a series of male “clients” to fund the two as they moved from town to town across the country.

In Part 5, Jude and Willem transition from a friendship to a romantic relationship. As they attempt to work through Jude’s continued cutting and fear of physical intimacy, Jude’s physical health declines, and a bone infection in his legs leads to a necessary amputation of his lower legs. In flashbacks, the reader learns that after escaping Brother Luke, Jude was next sent to a home for parentless children, where counselors again sexually abused him.

From there, he ran away and was forced to trade sexual favors in exchange for cross-country rides from truckers. During this sojourn, he was kidnapped by Dr. Traylor, who kept him imprisoned in his basement and raped him regularly. Jude only escaped after Traylor ran him over with his car, causing Jude’s lasting spinal issues. Part 5 ends with Willem picking up Malcolm and his wife ,Sophie, at a train station for a vacation weekend but getting struck by another vehicle.

Part 6 reveals that Willem, Malcolm, and Malcolm’s wife have all died. Jude finds himself unable to process or deal with his grief. Eventually, he decides to try to kill himself indirectly by starving himself to the point that his weakened and immunocompromised body can be killed by any passing infection. His friends intervene, however, and force him into hospitalization. He reacts in anger until one evening when he lashes out violently at his adoptive parents, Harold and Julia, and finds solace in the fact that they love him anyway; he cannot push them away despite his best attempts.

In Part 7, first-person narration from Harold reveals that Jude has killed himself. Despite reaching an equilibrium after Willem’s death at which he was able to resume his social life and interact with others healthily, he never recovered emotionally from the loss of Willem or from his childhood trauma. He left notes for his closest loved ones, including Harold and Julia, to whom he finally confessed the story of his past, apologizing for it as if they would think less of him upon learning it.

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Questions about A Little Life Plot

What is the message of A Little Life?
'A Little Life a surprisingly subversive novel—one that uses the middle-class trappings of naturalistic fiction to deliver an unsettling meditation on sexual abuse, suffering, and the difficulties of recovery … Yanagihara's rendering of Jude's abuse never feels excessive or sensationalist.

Is A Little Life a hard read?
It can be a difficult read since there is a lot of disturbing content including multiple forms of abuse. At times, I felt like the author was going a little too far in piling on the abuse history.

What is the summary and analysis of A Little Life?
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara tells the story of Jude St. Francis and the people in his life. Jude, left partially disabled by a terrifying injury as a teenager, is distraught about his past and hides most of that past and himself from others, even those closest to him.

Should a 14 year old read A Little Life?
I would strongly advise that a 14 year old not read this book. This book is a lot.even for an adult. There are some seriously mature themes and scenes that frankly no one is really equipped to process, let alone a young teen.

What age is A Little Life appropriate for?
Overall, this was an amazing book. It kept me entertained for three long weeks. I would recommend this book only to those who can handle it and I would not suggest anyone under the age of 18 reading it.

Is A Little Life a love story?
A Little Life was rightly called a love story; what critics missed was that its author is one of the lovers.

Is A Little Life a LGBT book?
In The Atlantic, Garth Greenwell suggested that A Little Life is "the long-awaited gay novel", as "it engages with aesthetic modes long coded as queer: melodrama, sentimental fiction, grand opera.

Does A Little Life make you cry?
A Little Life is tragic, emotional, heartbreaking but beautiful, loving and warm at the same time. Right from the start, we are introduced to this close knit group of friends that intertwine in so many ways but all the lines end with Jude.

Does A Little Life have a happy ending?
A Little Life is a harrowing novel with no happy ending, yet Yanagihara writes so well that it's difficult to put it down, even in the midst of sobbing.

Why should everyone read A Little Life?
A Little Life is the perfect chronicle of our age of anxiety, providing all its attendant dramas (cutting, binges and childhood sexual abuse) as well as its solaces: friendship, drugs, travel, love affairs and interior design.

Why is A Little Life popular?
It reminds us that if we don't see the impact we make on others, it's still there. Perhaps the book remains popular because that tragedy of not seeing your own impact feels so human, and has been no more true than over the past two years, while the book started taking off in popularity again.

Who falls in love in A Little Life?
In A Little Life, Jude eventually falls in love with his male best friend. In every section of To Paradise, all of the central love stories are between two gay men.

Who is the main character in A Little Life?
Jude St. An orphan, a lawyer, Willem's love interest, and the novel's protagonist. Jude is a complicated, deeply sensitive man who has endured inconceivable trauma, but despite the horrible violence he has suffered, he continues to appreciate the small and large miracles life has to offer.

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