How Hanya Yanagihara's modern classic, A Little Life, took on a visual life of its own

Hanya Yanagihara, author of A Little Life, explains how her novel took on a visual life online and we share just a few of our favourite images shared by fans.

06/01/2022
6 minutes to read
A black and white photograph of New York apartment buildings

A Little Life is an era-defining novel of enormous emotional power. Now a million-copy bestseller and nominated for the Booker Prize, it’s no surprise that Hanya Yanagihara’s moving story has attracted a fierce following, who have found a home in the Instagram account @alittlelifebook. With over 30,000 followers and contributors from all over the world, the account is an ever-growing collection of art, photos and images that evoke the emotions and characters of this unforgettable modern classic. Not only a way for readers to relive the book, the account is also a testament to the way in which A Little Life stays with those who read it long after the final page. 

Here, Hanya introduces us to the visual life online that her novel has taken on.

A Little Life was born of images: I’d been collecting them—photographs, paintings—long before I began writing, and it was these that guided the book in both concept and detail.

So it seemed only right to return the book to images. Shortly before the U.S. publication, my friend and social media manager Leonor Mamanna and I began a feed on Instagram, @alittlelifebook. Leonor is a photo editor, and she asked some of her photographer friends to shoot an original piece of art based on a specific scene or few lines of text. We hoped readers would not only appreciate these visualizations from the book—the motel rooms where Jude might have stayed, for example; or the bacteria-shaped cookies he baked for Harold; or JB’s messy studio—but that these pictures would encourage a different sort of intimacy with the world of the novel.

What we didn’t expect was that the feed would become a sort of always-open, ever-growing club, where readers could come and relive the book. The first time a reader took his own photograph for us to post, we were giddy. All these months later, we still are. It’s given this novel another, extended life on a different platform, and one that’s defined not by words, but by pictures. JB would have loved it. I hope you do, too.


Photo courtesy of @earthen_face


Photo courtesy of @mihcardos.art


Photo courtesy of @heyitsfranklin2


Photo courtesy of @heyitsfranklin2


Photo courtesy of @gab


Photo courtesy of @mina.fanous


Photo courtesy of @mina.fanous


Photo courtesy of @philipmaltman


Photo courtesy of @ryanpfluger


Photo courtesy of @ryanpfluger 


Photo courtesy of @kate_cunningham_


Photo courtesy of @christaanfelber


Photo courtesy of @christaanfelber


Photo courtesy of @bowles3c 


Photo courtesy of @leonorjr


Photo courtesy of @naomishon


Photo courtesy of @leonorjr


Photo courtesy of @yolandaedwards


A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

Book cover for A Little Life

When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition.

There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome  but that will define his life forever.