Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize
Long-listed for the National Book Award for Fiction
Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the 21st century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow, improbably, breaks through into the light.
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome - but that will define his life forever.
In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.
©2015 Hanya Yanagihara (P)2015 Audible, Inc.
"Yanagihara's immense new book, A Little Life, announces her, as decisively as a second work can, as a major American novelist." (The Wall Street Journal)
"Yanagihara’s novel can...drive you mad, consume you, and take over your life. Like the axiom of equality, A Little Life feels elemental, irreducible - and, dark and disturbing though it is, there is beauty in it." (The New Yorker)
"Yanagihara has drawn a deeply realized character study that inspires as much as devastates. It’s a life, just like everyone else's, but in Yanagihara’s hands, it’s also tender and large, affecting and transcendent; not a little life at all." (The Washington Post)
Audible Editor. Book lover. Would-be writer and musician. Fun uncle.
I read an article in which the author compared the experience of writing this book to a "fever dream" - and that's actually similar to how I felt while reading it. Yanagihara's prose is so beautifully written, her characters so well-drawn, that I would go hours absorbed in her work, experiencing that heady feeling that only great fiction can induce. Yes, there are dark passages; scenes that will break your heart and make you angry. But there are also moments in this book that made me think deeply about the nature of friendship and love, forgiveness and recovery, and what it means to actually share your life - your past, your pain, your aspirations, your joy - with those you love. And while there's a brutality to A Little Life - a raw quality that often left me feeling as exposed as its characters - there was something in Yanagihara's writing that was wondrous; something that made me appreciate my own little life.
I was probably a quarter of the way into the novel before I texted my book buddy: "It's called A Little Life and you have to read it right this minute. I don't even understand why it's so unbearable and so beautiful." By the time I had a quarter of the novel left, I was walking around Walgreen's, to buy makeup to repair my cry-face, and sobbing.
This is not just a manipulative tearjerker. This is a genuine falling in love and mourning for and with the characters. I don't know if I am more in love with Jude or Willem--or perhaps with the love they have for each other.
This novel unfurls with a steady, patient, pace as the characters grow and change and, ostensibly, grow up. The depth of it is rather like John Irving, but without the width of the (often pointless) subplots. The author's widening and narrowing focus, however, is incomparable; I've not ever experienced the controlled examination of character, then whole world/context/relationship/effect. I'm not sure it's even nameable. Maybe something like Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, with the individual interpretations of self within the shared travesty.
A word about St. Jude. He sprang, fully formed, from Yanagihara's head--armed with his razor and armor of silence, and just as surely the child of an eater-of-innocence and Wisdom itself. The reader becomes as protective of Jude as everyone else, and when he is called "crazy" or "sick," you have to know it's true, but everything in you objects, even while you hope for his healing, or his willingness to heal.
In the living (beyond the merely reading) of this novel, I had to constantly construct and reconstruct my understanding of Jude, of Willem, my reactions, and therefore myself. In the end, I had to update my definition of love, of romantic love, of friendship, of parenthood, of selfishness/selflessness, and the meaning of one little life. This is the reason one reads, and the reason one writes.
I have listened to hundreds of books from Audible, but never felt compelled to write a review. This book moved me to tears several times and parts of it will stay with me forever. Beautifully written, beautifully narrated. Now I need a comedy!
I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.
There are very, very few books that can be compared to this one. First, it is brilliantly written. It's smooth. It's a new take on an old subject. The author's talent is obvious. All of that is clear in any review you'll read. Second, the narration is absolutely perfect for the book and its characters. No question it gets a 5-star rating across the board. It's breathtaking, actually. And horrific beyond anything I can imagine.
The subject matter in this book - beyond the love and friendship, of course - is brutal. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to shake the mental images. In spite of the 32 hours I spent with this book in my ear, listening every chance I could get, I cannot recommend it. Please read what you can (without spoilers) about this book and make your own determination. You won't be disappointed with the quality of the writing or the narration. It's up to you if you can handle the topics.
I ignore genre labels. Some of my favorite books are outside my genre comfort zone. Listening to audiobooks is still reading. Not theater.
The only reading experience I can compare to reading A Little Life is when I read American Psycho many years ago. I hated everything about that book. The characters, the plot, the structure, the narrative ... everything. Yet, I was compelled to keep reading until the end. I had to put it down every 30 minutes or so, wash my hands, and get my mind off of it But I finished the book. I had no choice. Regardless of the how I normally felt about the subject matter, something in Easton's writing compelled me forward with a very reluctant fascination. His craftsmanship made reading the unreadable not just bearable, but necessary. And since then I have compared many books and many authors to Easton and this particular book and most have come up short.
A Little Life was every bit as compelling and as difficult to read. I disliked the plot and while I also disliked many of the characters, my dislike stemmed from different reasons. The book was 700 pages of mind-numbing depression with very few moments of light. The subject matter was somewhat similar to American Psycho - the debasement of others - but told from a far more sympathetic perspective, the victim's, rather than the perpetrator's. And my dislike of the characters wasn't because they were at their core unlikeable - it was because most of them were too good, too likable. It felt like the author was sometimes counterbalancing the over the top violence visited on Judd with over the top "too good to be true" friends and supporters. Very few people in life would have the patience and perseverance to deal with Judd for 4 years, much less almost 40. Pity and compassion only go so far. At some point, to protect your own psyche you have to step away from the despair. And as he often admitted, Judd was a terrible friend. He never shared his past with others, never offered explanations for his obvious problems and strangeness and never allowed others to truly see him. Willem, who started out as a very interesting person, eventually becomes a saint, and no one is as boring as a saint. J.B. who was the least saintly of the characters was still too nice to be a foil against the other characters' saccharine.. Nor was it logical to assume that someone with as many mental and physical health problems, who was so dysfunctional in so many ways could have risen as high as he rose in his career. The buildup to the true climax of the book, or at least the point of no-return was done well and took me by surprise, but I had an issue with the end of the book. Judd broke his promise, a promise he evidently took quite seriously, based on the amount of time it was discussed in the book. Then he broke it and there was no explanation about how he came around to breaking it.
Yet the author wrote in such a compelling fashion I had to keep reading. Her wide base of knowledge about so many subjects was fascinating. Her prose was often lyrical and she skillfully made the unpalatable, palatable. At least palatable enough that you were willing to stomach it in order to get through the book. Her dialog, other than the endless apologies, was witty and sharp. The portrait she painted of the art world, New York City and so many other beautiful locales was lyrical. And the way she jumped over large chunks of time, then periodically went back and revisited small moments in those blank spaces could have been distracting, but it seemed to fit the characters well and it was easy to follow.
So my four stars are attributable to a a writer so talented she makes the reader willing to devote a large chunk of time to a story they would prefer not to hear. I would like to see her turn that talent on a story less maudlin and depressing. I can't really recommend this book however, no matter how skillful the author. If you do decide to read it, go into it with your eyes open. Do not expect to be entertained.
I listened to this, and the narrator, Oliver Wyman did a fantastic job.
If there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that my co-workers, friends, and family are getting tired of me raving about A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. And now when I have free range to unabashedly praise this incredible work of fiction, I feel as if I am at a loss of words. So I’ll just say this: A Little Life is a masterpiece. It’s a deeply-moving, emotionally-unsettling, yet occasionally uplifting saga of friendship and love spanning 50 years. Yanagihara took me into some of the darkest places in fiction I have been, and left me thinking about her characters long after the story ended.
Let me preface this review by saying I am a medical professional, so my take on this book is obviously colored by my experiences and expertise. Overall, I really liked this book but found certain elements hard to swallow; most specifically Andy the orthopedic physician who continued to treat his friend for self inflicted wounds without at the very least getting a 72 hour mental health hold placed. In real life, Andy could and would be in danger of loosing his license for not following through on this. Also had a hard time accepting the fact that Jude would be released from any in-patient psychiatric facility after a drastic suicide attempt just because he failed to corporate with his therapist. That part would have bought him more time, not a ticket out.
But....I did like the characters (although I do agree with other reviewers that Willem was a bit too saint-like) and the way the story was laid out in bits and pieces throughout the novel.
IMHO, the end dragged, the novel could have ended quite a bit sooner without any loss of substance to the story.
Yanagihara is an extraordinarily gifted writer and because of that I'm left wondering how I came out the other side of this brutal thing with such negative feelings for the story, for Jude, and for my own callousness. How could I have possibly lost all sympathy and understanding for a character who has endured over thirty Audible hours of unspeakable sadness, misery and horrors? At some point early on, prior to the big reveal, I completely disconnected from Jude emotionally and then I spent the remainder of the book just waiting for it to end.
If I could separate the writing from the story, I would recommend this book.
I am wondering if perhaps the Audible performance is part of my conflict with this book. I physically cringed at every "I'm sorry" (and there were so many...) and I felt completely exhausted while listening. Was that just a result of the excessively heavy story line? Was there something in the tone of the read that left me feeling that way? Was it a combination? I'm not entirely sure.
Truly conflicted on this.
Besides incessant listening to audiobooks, I also read on my Kindle at night, birdwatch, garden (roses, daylilies), and do genealogy.
I was sure I was going to be enthralled with this story after reading so many very positive reviews--"the best book I ever read", "heart-wrenching", "gut-wrenching", "beautiful writing", "heart-breaking", "must read"--you get the idea. However, I was really disappointed and the more I listened (3 of the 4 eight-hour downloaded segments), the more I disliked it and the angrier I got at the author.
I would love to go point by point and tell you what disturbed me about the book, but I could not do that without ruining it for anyone else and I really don't want to do that. There is a great chance you will be one of those people, the majority of whom are female, that absolutely adores the story, and I don't want to give anything away to ruin this book for you. So what do I do? An abbreviated review, talking in generalities, a chance I won't be saying anything relevant? I will give it a try. I may have to give a bit away. Tread carefully.
Firstly, the whole premise of the college friendships lasting so many years was hard to take. I never met a bunch of more enmeshed men in my life! It was downright unbelievable to me. And such caring for one who gives absolutely nothing back but takes, takes, and takes some more. Something was very screwy about their sexuality, or lack there of, really. I don't claim to be an expert on men or their relationships, by any means, but something really felt wrong there. My gut kept rumbling, "No! That is not the way it would go!" And talk about reveling in misery! Both in the story and out ("gut-wrenchingly wonderful?"). Did it satisfy the mothering or care-taking needs of many listeners? Was it a turn on? And just when did this little life occur?
I am not naive about child abuse having spent approximately 25 years in the social work field working directly with abuse cases. I learned that even when I thought it was the worst case yet, there would always be one to come along and top it. But I shudder and lose empathy to think of people who do not want to help themselves or to change one whit, who want to make their abuse the defining characteristic of their lives. What's more, to revel in it. Enough is enough, dear author. You overdid it here immensely. You pulled out all the misery stops, every one I guess you could imagine.
Yes, I know how Jude's story ended. I searched and read the summary. Made me ever so glad I quit when I did. I would have been livid had I wasted 8 more hours!
Wow, wow, don't miss this book. I read it first and was so mesmerized I wanted to hear it read to me to savor it again and in more detail. It is beautifully read. This is a powerful emotional book about 4 young men who meet at college and then we follow them through the years as they make their careers and marriages, etc. The focus is on Jude (he will always haunt you) and his secret, dark past and how it affects all their loves. The friendships, the intimacies are breathtaking. It is a long long book but delicious all the way. I highly recommend it.
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