The figurative language of Hana Yanagihara…

Reading time: About 2 minutes

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of metaphors from Hana Yanagihara…

There is nothing “little” about the book A little Life by Hana Yanagihara. Clocking in at 832 pages and weighing 1.1 pounds the book also carries the weight of many prestigious reviews from such outlets as: The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal, NPR, Vanity Fair and The Economist. It was even a finalist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize.

I know some people adore long books. Not me! I prefer titles in the range of 250 pages, maybe 300. The commitment required of a 832-page tome daunts me, but I stuck with this one because I found the characters interesting and sympathetic. That said, the book was still far too long and would have benefitted from more aggressive editing.

Yanagihara also has an ear for figurative language. Here are my favourite examples of that:

  • He’d watch that kind light suffuse the car like syrup, watch it smudge furrows from foreheads, slick grey hairs into gold, gentle the aggressive shine from cheap fabrics into something lustrous and fine.
  • Willem knew — from the constant, hummingbird-flutter of his eyelids and the way his hand was curled into a fist so tight that Willem could see the ocean-green threads of his veins jumping under the back of his hand — that he was in pain.
  • They had been riding out to Long Island City when a Chinese man, slight and tendon and carrying a persimmon-red plastic bag that sagged heavily from the crook of the last joint of his right index finger, as if he had no strength or will left to carry it any more declaratively, stepped on and slumped into the seat across from them, crossing his legs and folding his arms around himself and falling asleep at once.
  • At five thirty, the light was perfect: buttery and dense and fat somehow, swelling the room as it had the train into something expensive and hopeful.
  • The camera wasn’t a great one, and it had hazed every picture with a smoky yellow light, which, along with his poor focusing skills, had made everyone warm and rich and slightly soft-edged, as if they had been shot through a tumblerful of whiskey.
  • And then you would go get a real job, and acting in your dreams for a career in it would reseed into the evening, a melting into history as quiet as a briquette of ice sliding into a warm bath.
  • [He] could see how good a litigator Harold would be if he wanted to, could see his skill in redirecting and repositioning, almost as if their conversation were something liquid, and he was guiding it through a series of troughs and chutes, eliminating any options for its escape, until it reached its inevitable end.
  • And then Mr. Chen would get into his car and drive away, and the echoes would reverse themselves — “Clear!” “Clear!” “Clear!” — And the cacophony would rise up again, like a flock of screeching cicadas.
  • He had been following Willem on the days he was shooting in what was supposed to be a large Belgravia flat, and the lighting had been particularly golden, like beeswax.
  • Later, back in the apartment in Notting Hill that Willem was renting, he had taken pictures of him sitting and reading, and there, too, the light had been yellowish, although it was less like syrup and instead crisper, like the skin of a late-fall apple.
  • From the kitchen there is a timpani clatter of falling metal.