Editor's first impression of Man Booker shortlisted author Hanya Yanagihara
‘Hanya Yanagihara’s first novel, The People In The Trees, was submitted while I was working at Atlantic Books, by the agent Andrew Kidd. Though Andrew was handling UK rights for his New York colleague Anna Stein, it was clear that he genuinely shared her enthusiasm for the novel. His references to the influences of Nabokov and Conrad in his offer letter certainly provided an intriguing combination!
From the opening pages of the book, I was hugely impressed by the intelligence of Hanya’s writing, not by any showiness in the prose, but by the sheer precision of her observation. She had set herself some considerable challenges in her choice of subject-matter – a story that came in the end to revolve around child-abuse (always a tricky subject for fiction) and that involved imaginary Pacific islands and their imagined inhabitants, flora and fauna. The result occupied a territory somewhere between literary fiction and science-fiction. And yet whether she was imagining botanical or anthropological detail, the (often perverse and/or suppressed) emotions of her unusual characters, or negotiating a structure that involved not one, but two unreliable narrators, the detail with which she had created the worlds of her book was extraordinarily effective in doing the essential job of a novelist: encouraging the reader to suspend disbelief. Had I been told that the author was in fact a botanist or an anthropologist, it wouldn’t have surprised me. The unusual nature of the story, the difficulties that we would have in classifying the novel, the sheer dislikability of the central characters, didn’t make it easy to imagine the book finding a wide readership, but I found myself convinced that this was simply a book – and a writer’s talent - that we had to offer for.’
Ravi Mirchandani, editor of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life
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