A Bubble in the Vein: Suicide, Community, and the Rejection of Neoliberalism in Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Miriam Toews’s All My Puny Sorrows

  • Amy RushtonEmail author
Part of the New Comparisons in World Literature book series (NCWL)


This chapter discusses how contemporary fiction opens up new ways of understanding suicidal depression, not only as symptomatic of an unsustainable neoliberal worldview but also as offering critiques of, and possibilities of resistance to, neoliberal logics of success. Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life (2015: hereafter ALL) and All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (2014: AMPS) are fictional explorations of suicidal depression that can be interpreted as a protest against neoliberalism’s placatory myths of the individual and the attainment of personal 'success'. Rather than distressing, I read both ALL and AMPS as narratives that disconcert neoliberal values and assert their discontent with unsustainable ideals. Instead of being at the mercy of an inhumane world and unsupportive institutions, these fictional narratives dramatize the productively disruptive potential of depression. Whereas nonfictional narratives of depression are structurally bound to expectations of progress and recovery, fictional narratives are not bound to such structural predictability. Indeed, ALL and AMPS are disturbing narratives due to their depiction of suicide as, ultimately, rational. It is entirely possible that AMPS and ALL cannot allow for a 'happy ending' because such an outcome seems impossible under current societal and institutional conditions. Yet neither novel isolates the distressed individual at the heart of their narratives. Both frame the suicidal individual through the perspective of their familial community, offering communal relations and radical empathy as strategies of resistance to an inhumane and irresponsible neoliberal society.



I presented my initial ideas at “Fast Forward: Women’s Writing in the 21st Century” at Sheffield Hallam, September 2017. My colleague at NTU, Dr. Nicole Thiara, was an enthusiastic and attentive reader of this essay. Many thanks to Nicole and the conference organizers and participants for their generous feedback.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nottingham Trent UniversityNottinghamUK

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