... intricately assembled themes and intensely anxious preoccupations ... There are few surface resemblances between A Little Life, Yanagihara’s Booker-shortlisted second novel, and To Paradise, but in both she is deeply, compulsively interested in characters for whom the world seems unattainable, whose histories and temperaments coalesce to render them marginal, held back ... each section conjures a vivid, often startlingly reconfigured America ... In some ways, this is a work whose fascination with entropy – the breakdown of societies, of property, of the body – makes its job almost impossibly hard; we feel as though we are standing in the centre of ever-decreasing circles ... The novel’s title invokes a feeling of expectant adventuring, of happiness waiting somewhere; what, perhaps, nation-builders might feel just as strongly as individuals at the beginning of their lives. Where the suffering and hopelessness of A Little Life created an overwhelming experience that left readers divided around the issue of how much they could take, this is a far subtler delineation of those who feel hamstrung, beleaguered, inadequate to the task ahead. In many ways – not least the questions of political and social responsibility it poses, especially in the face of global catastrophe – it is a darker work, and yet a more fruitfully puzzling, multifaceted one. And behind this impressive, significant novel stands the question: what is a life, if it is not lived in freedom?
Deftly paced and judiciously detailed, the tale makes hay with the conventions of the 19th-century novel. But that’s not all. With breathtaking audacity Yanagihara rewrites America, the Civil War having produced, in this account, not a united country but a conglomeration of territories ... Strikingly, [Yanagihara] ushers her characters offstage only to bring them back, in other eras and other guises, multiple times ... There are dozens of other such reincarnations, and they simultaneously bedazzle and befuddle. If in a Russian novel one struggles to keep track of who is related to whom, here we struggle to keep track of who has turned into whom, especially as Yanagihara masterfully repurposes themes, situations and motifs as well ... Limited and circumstantial as they may ultimately be, acts of love and goodness do leaven this book, which is finally as much concerned with the vulnerable as the inescapable ... In its evocation of eternal recurrence and the illusory nature of life, To Paradise recalls Buddhist ideas and so large a wisdom that it may seem absurdly worldly to critique the novel as a piece of craft. But 700-page books will sag in places, and this one is no exception. It loses steam in the Hawaii section and only fitfully regains momentum until its gripping end ... The dystopian future depicted in the final section is horrific indeed. But reading of the societal developments, we may yearn for the fineness of touch with which the novel opened. In place of Yanagihara’s trademark emotional probing, the last section confronts us with chunks of exposition ... This ambitious novel tackles major American questions and answers them in an original, engrossing way. It has a major feel. But it is finally in such minor moments that Yanagihara shows greatness.
I felt the impulse a few times to put down the book and make a chart—the kind of thing you see TV detectives assemble on their living-room walls when they have a web of evidence but no clear theory of the case ... To Paradise, though its plots are too various and intricate to even begin to capture in summary, moves smoothly and quickly ... It is executed with enough deftness and lush detail that you just about fall through it, like a knife through layer cake ... To Paradise evokes the dizzying way that minor events and personal choices might create countless alternative histories and futures, both for individuals and for society. Reading the novel delivers the thrilling, uncanny feeling of standing before an infinity mirror, numberless selves and rooms turning uncertainly before you, just out of reach ... Small choices leading to unforeseen consequences are a conventional feature of fiction, but Yanagihara’s execution of this trope feels compelling and chilling because Charles’s world is so plausibly near to our own possible future ... Yanagihara’s feat in To Paradise is capturing the way that the inevitable chaos of the present unrolls into the future: It happens on both global and intimate levels, always.
To Paradise appears not to have been edited ... Though her 1893 is a fantasy in which a belief in true love, rather than any financial interests, might have prompted states to secede, she is not content to let the details remain fuzzy, and we get page after page of lengthy explanations ... Yanagihara does not have an ear for the language of the 1890s, and she alternates between the anachronistic...and the archaic ... There’s a natural temptation to treat To Paradise like a David Mitchell novel and try to connect the dots—could these Binghams be descendants of the Binghams from Book I?—but any attempt proves futile ... the rules of the world are explained ad nauseam. We get paragraph after paragraph describing imaginary future procedures for pandemic containment and eradication. Some of the specifics prove relevant to the plot, but most do not ... To Paradise transitions from multicentury gay epic to COVID-19 protest novel ... scientific narration reads like it was drawn from New York Times explainers, as if Yanagihara had been tasked with creating a fictional frame for disseminating the ABCs of pandemics ... There are real questions to be asked, and To Paradise is bold enough to raise them. But between its unlimited supply of Davids and its triptych of American history, no larger lesson emerges. It’s easy enough to depict a metanarrative of civilization’s decline if you can tweak the past to be more egalitarian than it was, and render the future more dully totalitarian than it’s likely to be. And if the antidote to dangerous ideas is didactic storytelling, I have to wonder (apparently with Yanagihara) whether the cure is worse than the disease.
Vast, complex ... Yanagihara has always been brilliant on the trappings of the good life, but here there’s an almost fetishistic caressing of material goods, a celebration of luxury as necessity at a time of crisis ... Brilliant and horrifying ... Put together, the three sections of the novel combine to deliver a series of powerful statements about progress and utopia, about those who are excluded from our visions of a better world ... The repetition of names across the three sections is on one level quite simple ... There’s something more than this, though, something that chips away at the verisimilitude of the novel, that asks us to engage in a complicated way with the very idea of characters in a book ... There’s something miraculous about reading To Paradise while the coronavirus crisis is still playing out around us, the dizzying sense that you’re immersed in a novel that will come to represent the age, its obsessions and anxieties. It’s rare that you get the opportunity to review a masterpiece, but To Paradise, definitively, is one.
The essential conflicts in the connected sections are familiar from A Little Life: the struggle to care for the 'fragile or different or damaged' and the tension between protection and stifling repression. But although To Paradise is just as big and grueling and terror-strewn as its predecessor, the result is strangely lifeless. Indeed—and not even detractors would say this about A Little Life—it’s boring. How did that happen? ... The problem, to my mind, goes back to Ms. Yanagihara’s strength as a sentimental storyteller and her lack of interest in ideas or root causes. A Little Life narrows itself down as it advances until its frame contains almost nothing beyond its tormented hero. But the structure of To Paradise means that it must work by accretion, imbuing recurring objects, actions and motifs with accumulated meaning. But Ms. Yanagihara doesn’t really do metaphor, as odd as that sounds, so while the novel’s many echoes are apparent the reasons for them are not ... There is no particular exploration into gender hierarchies here...nor is there any real curiosity about the different conditions experienced by homosexuals across eras ... As far as I can tell, Ms. Yanagihara is just randomly switching stuff around ... The suspicion of pointlessness settles upon To Paradise early and makes the effort to sort out the details of its multiple settings hard to commit to. This is a novel steeped in politics and sociology by an author who seems defiantly indifferent to such matters.
A sprawling,...intimate epic that is also focused on love, shame, and existential loneliness ... Yanagihara’s masterful, transfixing writing, and her ability to plumb the depths of her characters at their most despicable and at their most tender ... To Paradise is more or less three novels in one ... Each explores the possibilities and limitations of idealism and conviction in both the personal and political spheres ... Book I reads like a Henry James novel, complete with long and grammatically impeccable sentences and careful attention paid to unfolding, layer by layer, David’s psychology and emotional depth. Book II...which is divided into two parts, reads more like a contemporary literary novel ... Book III...is the longest and also, perhaps, the most difficult to read right now, since it takes place in a pandemic-ravaged future ... On the surface, what ties the three books together are the repetition of character names...and the house on Washington Square Park that appears in each book in one iteration or another. But there are deeper, more ineffable ties, in the form of moral and political questions: What does it mean to be free? What does it mean to be protected? Does the latter preclude the possibility of the former? Are gilded cages any less restrictive for being gilded? To Paradise doesn’t definitively answer these questions, but revels in ambivalence rather than moral absolutes, making it a rich, emotional, and thought-provoking read.
To Paradise...feels like further proof that her greatest strength lies in finding new ways to seduce her readers, while calling into further question the value or the purpose of the lure ... In each section, Yanagihara has an anthropological brilliance for compiling and disseminating objects, signifiers, settings. She can establish, immediately and engrossingly, both our characters and their worlds ... Almost every [character named] David is given at least one opportunity to break out of the stifling system he lives in—to escape his family for a lover or a revolution—but, in each instance, the book refuses these characters the intelligence, the agency or the page count to do it. Their narratives come to feel less like people making choices, taking actions, and more like set-pieces moved through the book’s architecture to converge on a preestablished point ... The sheer scope of To Paradise also makes it feel Big and Important, as if it has no choice but to say something about who and what we are ... What Yanagihara offers instead is the version that feels good until you look too closely, until you wake up the next morning—as after a Lifetime movie or a late-night Tinder date—and find that the endpoint was predetermined and that there’s precious little in its wake. It was Bigness, sure, full of sound and fury, but devoid of specificity or self-doubt or, indeed, of empathy.
The last thing anyone probably feels like reading is yet another pandemic novel, not least one 700 pages long and featuring a future totalitarian America mobilised to fight waves of deadly infections ... To Paradise has none of [A Little Life's] febrile violence. It is also almost wantonly strange, a triptych of stories set in three discrete Americas yet connected by looping scenarios, motifs and recurring character names, as if a Paul Auster novel, or a story written in code, had smuggled its way in under a Tolstoyesque wealth of social and psychological detail. It’s much easier to read than this might sound ... The reframing of characters — all those Charleses and Davids — and scenarios feel like a comment on fiction’s endless capacity for revision and renewal, especially powerful in counterpoint to her epic probing of America as a failed imaginative idea, a country that hasn’t successfully reinvented itself in the face of an existential threat ... To Paradise is frequently magnificent, thanks to Yanagihara’s skill at immersing the reader deep within the emotional world of her characters, as they face agonising choices in the name of sexual and filial love. It is also perversely evasive and unsatisfactory, its narrative canvas overloaded and at times frustratingly opaque. As for humour — forget it: the tone is relentlessly stately and sombre.
Ambitious...an epic in size and scope ... Yanagihara brings to fruition the novel's themes: how queer men's networks formed to enable their love and to resist oppression by society can become the very life force by which civilization (meaning art, human connection, love itself) in America might be sustained. I must admit that I cried pretty much continuously while reading the riveting final 100 pages ... Ultimately, the novel is a cri de coeur about the revolutionary power of love and choice to fight oppression and despair.
Doubtlessly, it’s difficult to read a 720-page book teeming with excessive trauma, nor is it always pleasant. And yet, the experience of reading her novel is similar to watching a newsreel of the past couple years, the spread of the pandemic and the irresponsibility of right-wing governments in handling it. Yanagihara’s elegant prose, leveling tension and then sprawling into excessive, sometimes mindless, anecdotes of violence is not dissimilar to actually experiencing the blunt shock of trauma–over and over again. For many of us exposed to the racial politics in the novel, the intergenerational trauma that pits child against parent, the alienation and reaction of identity, and even more crucially, the near-animalistic scrabble for survival in an authoritarian society with limited resources to go around, it’s extremely relatable ... The unrelenting barrage of sickness, death, physical violence, narcissistic grandparents and lovers, and unrequited love subverts the typically-held expectations of what a good story should be, the fable that offers a moral in the end, or the literary conventions of exposition, climax and conclusion ... Yanagihara does not offer us a way out. Instead, she simply presents a mirror to the reality we live in, and depicts the anguish of her characters when they try, and fail, to protect and nurture their loved ones.
Yanagihara's unparalleled storytelling skills shine ... To Paradise is a novel of the highest order. Yanagihara writes with elegance, evoking emotion and rendering believable characters who move the plot. Her perceptive eye is evident in the three separate settings, placing the reader in each time frame through multiple narratives, which she orchestrates with great acuity. Themes of love and belonging reign in Book I and Book II. In Book III, fear trumps love for a mimesis of reality, hitting close to home for all of us right now.
Yanagihara toys, dominatrix-style, with her readers’ desire for narrative fulfillment ... . It’s to Yanagihara’s credit that To Paradise kindles such desire in its readers, even if the novel is too rangy and diverse to satisfy the hurt/comfort fans who adored A Little Life. To leave that desire unsatisfied, however, seems imperious and even a bit cruel. Seven hundred and twenty pages makes for a very long tease.
Readers should not be daunted by its length though because, after a few initial problems, it moves quickly, thanks to Yanagihara’s unflagging prose and assured storytelling ... Nobody could doubt Yanagihara’s ambition and, while there is still a slickness that can make her work feel superficial in places, To Paradise has greater artistic range and subtlety than its predecessor ... Book three is a plausible, terrifying vision of where we might be heading, which feels born more of genuine urgency than any desire to exploit the reader’s emotions. It should win over some of those who questioned its author’s motives in the past.
It’s true that the themes explored in the book’s 700 pages are big ones — love, illness, power, wealth, racism. But what the author describes as a series of interconnected stories feels to this reader like three stand-alone (and not particularly compelling) novellas. I didn’t need all three narratives to be tied up neatly in a bow at the end, but I needed more of a connecting thread ... Fans of A Little Life”(and there are so many!) will likely be disappointed ... For all the characters in her latest, the pursuit of paradise is elusive, as were my attempts to feel much empathy or interest for this multi-century group of Edwards, Davids and Johns.
Yanagihara brings to her broad themes a narrow social lens, which never widens sufficiently or with enough depth to make the vast scale of the novel convincing. The book progresses, instead, through increasingly pedestrian writing shoehorned into a chaotic structure that suggests indifference to form, raising some troubling questions along the way: Why has Yanagihara written a novel that announces such large questions and over such enormous length while showing little interest or ability to deliver on them? And why has the book been published in this state? It begins promisingly enough ... Yanagihara’s writing about David’s romantic dilemma is elegant and controlled, largely focused on his state of mind as he weighs his future ... The world Yanagihara builds is formulaic, its tropes borrowed from George Orwell’s 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale ... What results is derivative, in a way that makes the novel a mass of material, unreadable and, possibly, meant to go unread. The repetition of names, the false racial consciousness of characters who come across as generically white until they suddenly declare their race or skin color ... Less than halfway through, the question becomes whether this is a novel at all.
The good—or bad—news, depending on whether you’re after a tearjerker, is that To Paradise leaves readers’ eyes dry ... The themes of To Paradise—pandemics, colonialism, unequal rights, the quest for compassion and care—are urgent, and the idea of an alternate America is all too real in a post-Trump era with Roe v Wade in jeopardy. For fiction to work, however, it has to transcend the ideas it aspires to represent. Unlike the precise rendering of the fictional Micronesian island in Yanagihara’s 2013 debut, The People in the Trees, the world-building in To Paradise feels laboured. The characters often act as mouthpieces for concepts, with exposition eliding emotion. Despite the plethora of pages accorded to their development, they remain, alas, as unachieved as the American dream.
To Paradise is boring ... This is the novel’s image of itself: something at first bizarre, and then interesting, but finally vague. Put bluntly, the novel’s sections do not work alone, nor do they work together ... Rather, they feel like beacons we’re meant to triangulate, dots we’re supposed to connect, in order to see in the negative space whatever Yanagihara’s point is. Even though a great deal happens in the novel—for me, keeping track of characters and relationships and histories of the narrative worlds required not-insignificant marginalia—each section feels porous, full of gaps and winks that become deflating rather than beguiling ... Just as the novel begins stories it leaves unrealized, it lays out ideas without saying much about them ... references don’t coalesce into something more complex, a claim or a knot. Imperialism, racism, homophobia, stratifications of class—these structures of power are related, but they aren’t identical, and the novel shifts between them in imprecise way.
The historical fiction is pacy and cogent, despite some hokey dialogue. The farewell party in 1994 is very strong: a depiction of ordinary sadness more affecting than anything in A Little Life. The letter from Hawaii feels shoe-horned in, like something Yanagihara’s had lying around for a while. The final, overlong section is pure panic porn, and my god is it gripping. Ingeniously, improbably, all this hangs together to make a sui generis whole that’s decidedly greater than the sum of its very weird parts. The thing with the repeating names: it sounds bonkers, but it works ... Shameless swathes of exposition, crude indulgence of our darkest fears. Formidably fluent, morally simplistic, conceptually audacious, aesthetically overblown. Still haven’t figured out what it is I’m describing? Frankly, neither have I.
... boldly rewrites America’s past, present and future ... a spectacular tripartite fiction. Here is an alternative country in which profound questions of family, inheritance, sovereignty, identity and, above all, the meaning of freedom, are dazzlingly held up to the light ... like its predecessor, a complex work of intertwined human relationships, but it is also sublimely readable ...The finale of To Paradise is a masterstroke, simultaneously thriller-esque and intensely moving, even as it describes a grim outcome for the American experiment. It accentuates Yanagihara’s intentions for the novel as a whole.
To Paradise, Yanagihara’s dense, ambitious new novel, is a leap forward: she constructs a wildly speculative story that enthralls even as it challenges readers. With impeccable control, she examines the rot at the heart of the American experiment, reimagining the nation’s legacy at three different junctures in an alternative history ... The language of [the first section] 'Washington Square' is rich and exacting, calling to mind the social novels of Henry James and Edith Wharton, and the lavish textures of Martin Scorsese’s 1993 film adaptation of The Age of Innocence. Cinematic and lyrical, Washington Square appeals to the eye as well as the ear ... [the second section] captures the opprobrium visited upon victims of the epidemic, with strong echoes of Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia ... [the third section] 'Zone Eight' is long, but, in this case, more is more ... For all the darkness, Yanagihara offers glimmers of human connection as a kind of balm, the sign of a paradise regained. To Paradise expands on the promise of A Little Life with a layered narrative that’s more daring yet more restrained, executed with a dazzling technique that raises the novel above its peers.
To Paradise is so unusually terrible that it is a sort of anti-accomplishment, the rare book that manages to combine the fey simplicity of a children’s tale with near unreadable feats of convolution. It is too juvenile to attract serious adult readers and too obtuse to aspire to popular appeal ... it is hard to summon the will to enumerate To Paradise’s thematic or even stylistic shortcomings, for its basic construction is so irretrievably botched as to eclipse the rest of its defects. The fundamental problem is simple and devastating: the book does not make any sense ... Aside from its sheer incoherence, its most notable feature is only its punishing length. On and on it goes, sprouting new subplots, amassing new contrivances. Anyone must have a brain of stone to finish it without shedding tears of relief.
... it is no crime to put your paid vacation into your novel. My point is simply that Yanagihara remains at heart a travel writer, if not an unreconstructed one. She seems to sense that wealth can be tilted, like a stone, to reveal the wriggling muck beneath. In a few cases, she is even making a political point, as with her abiding interest in the colonization of Hawaii. But more often in these books, wealth’s rotten underbelly is purely psychological ... her sentimentality has begun weeping like a sore ... Regardless of Yanagihara’s private life, her work betrays a touristic kind of love for gay men. By exaggerating their vulnerability to humiliation and physical attack, she justifies a maternal posture of excessive protectiveness. This is not an act of dehumanization but the opposite ... the conspicuous absence of women in her fiction may well express Yanagihara’s tendency, as a writer, to hoard female subjectivity for herself ... even Yanagihara’s novels are not death camps; they are hospice centers. A Little Life, like life itself, goes on and on. Hundreds of pages into the novel, Jude openly wonders why he is still alive, the beloved of a lonely god. For that is the meaning of suffering: to make love possible. Charles loves David; David loves Edward; David loves Charles; Charlie loves Edward; Jude loves Willem; Hanya loves Jude; misery loves company.
I was roughly three-quarters of the way through Hanya Yanagihara’s massive third novel, To Paradise, when I felt like I could go on no longer ... I was...extremely bored ... To Paradise is Yanagihara’s most ambitious novel to date and, to my mind, her least successful ... [The first] section of the novel was absorbing—love triangles always are—and, in its better moments, it reminded me of the novels of Henry James and Edith Wharton. Unfortunately, Yanagihara abruptly cuts off this story and begins a weaker one ... Try as I might, I could not bring myself to care about this father-son conflict: both Davids are too pathetic and good-hearted to inspire either interest or ill will ... she’s interleaved so many hollow scenes of love and tenderness, as if responding to critics who found her prior two novels too dark ... This is lazy sentimentality, and I don’t think Yanagihara’s heart is really in it. Her writing is flat and predictable when she’s writing about parental sacrifice and enduring familial love, which are not her usual themes. Her dystopia bored me not because of the repeated plagues, or the many minute details of life under Fascism, but because there were far too many empty professions of love, too many moments in which the human spirit could be said to endure.
Titled To Paradise, the new book might just as well have been called To Hell ... The opening section, Washington Square, is simply captivating, a revision of a Henry James or Edith Wharton story ... Many people found A Little Life overwhelming, even those critics who deplored it as melodrama, complaining it put its readers in 'a hostage situation'. To Paradise is hardly less distressing, all the more so because it connects so directly to our plight now, as we realise that the virus is not finished with us. A very unusual sensibility and a burning subject matter have come together here. The tripartite structure, and intricate interconnections across three centuries, make it less bludgeoningly powerful than A Little Life, but it is nonetheless highly affecting. Read it and hope not to revisit it in your dreams.
The current fashion is for sentences so dry they rasp, but Yanagihara’s prose is rich and sumptuous. So, too, is her evocation of her favorite subject: human suffering ... luxuriates in long descriptions of abusive relationships and profound depressions and dystopian deprivations. It is never so alive as a book as when its characters are in deep pain ... It is unnerving for many reasons to see a serious novel draw a straight line from mask laws to fascist death camps, as To Paradise attempts to do. But what is most disconcerting about this argument is the callousness it demands from the reader toward people with disabilities ... Yanagihara’s world is one in which people with disabilities, much like gay men, exist only to suffer, long for death, and eventually, with great relief, meet it...The dual structure I’ve outlined here is intellectual. But reading Yanagihara’s novels makes it clear that their primary force is not intellectual, but purely and deeply at the level of sensation. That’s what’s most compelling about these books, what makes them so readable at the same time that they are so grotesque in their tragedies ... There’s a deeply common, deeply juvenile fantasy at the heart of these books ... In the face of so much self-indulgence, that grim idea doesn’t feel like a great and hard truth. It only feels like an author luxuriantly twisting the knife before she plunges it in again, one last time.
720 pages of small details, loose ends, and narratives within narratives that ultimately make the novel feel like a bit too much ... Despite the elements of cohesion mentioned above, To Paradise is a disjointed read in which narrative threads are dropped never to be retaken again ... Also, the language used in this first story, which sets the tone for the rest of the book, is confusing as it goes from sounding modern and using 'twenty-nine years' to using 'nine-and-twenty years' and words like 'flibbertigibbet.' There are echoes that reverberate in each book, places and situations that tempt readers to try to connect the dots and find some overarching idea enveloping the three stories, but that exercise will only lead to frustration because there will be many more questions than answers ... packs a staggering amount of characters, events, letters, and narratives within narratives that never coalesce into something that feels like more than the sum of its parts. However, it also features interesting ideas ... Yanagihara crammed three centuries of imagination into this novel, and that is undoubtedly an achievement. She also managed to put human emotions at the center of every narrative, and that grants To Paradise emotional resonance. However, the onslaught of details and stories ultimately muddle the narrative in a way that injects a healthy dose of bewilderment and frustration into what could have been an outstanding reading experience.
Hanya Yanagihara’s third novel, To Paradise, asks a lot of its readers ... In exchange, they will be rewarded with glimpses of tenderness, the familiar yearning for a paradise that doesn’t exist, and sumptuous descriptions of rich people’s dinner parties ... This book is just boring. Women exist mostly as sidekicks and surrogates. Life’s dramas—its marriage plots and childrearing and apocalypse rescues—are left to the men, the various reincarnated Davids and Charleses. But these reincarnations are not one-for-one. It never becomes clear whether the characters that share names are meant to be distant relatives or the same person ... the gimmick is too silly, too diffuse, for the book to succeed. The loving relationship between this Charles and that David, or that David and this other David, is subsumed by general confusion ... Each section ends with the refrain 'to paradise,' an enormously corny conceit that undermines otherwise moving scenes. It’s a shame because the idea feels true, the yearning for some imaginary place, some antediluvian world. What’s almost lost in all the noise is that none of the characters ever make it there.
The threshold for self-debasement and humiliation is high here, and it is on this subject that Yanagihara writes most compellingly (albeit disturbingly) ... Topically this is a lot to juggle, and nuance is a casualty of scope in this novel ... To Paradise feasts grimly on the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is not an anomaly, Yanagihara reminds us, but a blip in an increasingly illness-ridden world ... A dazzling experiment.
Yanagihara’s new book, To Paradise, is an übernovel, and it demonstrates all the strengths and weaknesses of the budding genre ... a broad, ambitious tale that engages with contemporary life in audacious and occasionally compelling ways. Yet it also falls prey to the very form it is trying to master. Yanagihara looms over every section of this novel, constantly reminding us of her presence through her authorial choices. We rarely have a chance to inhabit the narrative she has so carefully composed ... The only real connection between these narratives, the thread that keeps them tethered to each other despite themselves, is the various names that recur across the text: Eden and Adams and Edward and Charles and David ... Yanagihara can be a lovely writer. There are stretches of To Paradise where her sentences flow beautifully and her pacing is immaculate. She’s also a wizard of description ... Yanagihara also explores many vital themes. In the first section alone, her characters discuss colonialism, racism, and class, and she approaches these issues from new and unexpected angles because of her compellingly counterfactual world-building ... The ambition on display in To Paradise is thrilling, but it also comes with costs ... Yanagihara is certainly capable of crafting an immersive, engrossing story; whatever one thinks of her previous novels, they all operate as stories in the traditional sense by accumulating detail and density in order to transport readers from their own lives to imaginary worlds of Yanagihara’s creation. At times, To Paradise does the same. For the most part, though, this is a novel that reads as a catalog of obsessions. If you don’t share them, you are on your own.
... an intricate dystopian epic, an immersive tale of intertwined fates across three centuries of alternate history ... While A Little Life pushed readers to their emotional limits, this novel is ultimately less concerned with individual trauma than with collective dread. Pandemics are pervasive, a reminder of isolation and indifference. Racism and xenophobia remain constant. There is no solace in friendship; the pandemics revealed the limits of that. If there are embers of hope, they lie in the barest rudiments of human nature, our need for love and to protect our loved ones. Beneath Yanagihara’s patient world-building and restrained prose is a terrified scream.
In the third part, a character remembers hearing a story with the plot of the first. She mourns the fact that she never did get to hear the end of it ... You will know just how she feels. But what does it mean that Yanagihara acknowledges this? That is just one of the conundrums sure to provoke years of discussion and theorizing. Another: Given the punch in the gut of utter despair one feels when all the most cherished elements of 19th- and 20th-century lives are unceremoniously swept off the stage when you turn the page to the 21st—why is the book not called To Hell? Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.
... ambitious if unwieldy ... The prose in the first section effectively conjures the style of Henry James, but there’s too much exposition and not enough character development in the final section, where the author spends too much time building out the future world. There’s a great deal of passion, but on the whole it’s a mixed bag.