To Paradise, the new novel from the writer of A Little Life, has been widely hailed as a masterpiece. But where did she get the unflinching eye she turns on America’s idea of itself?

Hanya Yanagihara’s debut novel taught her not to give up her day job as a travel writer and editor. The People in the Trees was the story of a scientist jailed for sexually abusing children he adopted during his Nobel-winning research on a Pacific island. It impressed reviewers with its exhaustive inventiveness and its refusal to offer redemption or solace, but sold only a few thousand copies when it was published in 2013.

Two years later, the Manhattan-based writer released a novel that was twice as long and even less forgiving. It was about the fallout, among four college friends, from the appalling childhood sexual abuse of one of their group, and it hit the jackpot, becoming one of those vanishingly rare literary break-outs. Victoria Beckham and Dua Lipa declared themselves fans, while an equally passionate group of readers condemned it as gratuitous, even “evil”. A Little Life sold a quarter of a million print copies in the UK alone, where it was shortlisted for the Booker and the Women’s prize for fiction. But far from giving up her day job, Yanagihara took on a bigger one, as editor-in-chief of T, the New York Times style magazine.

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