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Brace yourself for the most astonishing challenging upsetting and profoundly moving book in many a season An epic about love and friendship in the twenty first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its readersWhen 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 uick 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cruel Brooklyn born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn brilliant enigmatic Jude who serves as their center of gravity Over the decades their relationships deepen and darken tinged by addiction success and pride Yet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

10 thoughts on “A Little Life

  1. says:

    5 THINGS I LIKED ABOUT A LITTLE LIFEAND 5 THINGS I DIDN'TEveryone’s talking about Hanya Yanagihara’s Booker and National Book Award nominated blockbuster novel There are lots of 5 star raves on this site Many people are saying it’s one of the most incredible books they’ve ever read I hate to be the outlier or considered cold hearted I’m not I cry over books and movies ALL THE TIME The book took me just under 2 weeks to finish and I’m glad I read it I liked it I really liked it But I also didn’t Here’s whyTHINGS I LIKED1 The power of friendshipIf this book had a theme song it might be the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” Four roommates at an Eastern college move to the Big Apple and become huge successes JB becomes a hip downtown artist; the well off Malcolm is a well known architect; Willem goes from waiter to movie star practically overnight; Jude is a lawyer first at the DA’s office and then at a prestigious corporate firm where he works himself up and becomes a partnerOver the decades their friendship endures through spats early career struggles JB’s drug addiction and most of all dealing with the effects of Jude’s unspeakably abusive past on his current life although Jude is terrified to tell anyone about that abuse The novel is also refreshing in its depiction of race gender and sexual orientation 2 The depiction of the effects of abuseMy one major takeaway from this book is a fuller understanding of the after effects of systemic childhood abuse Jude an orphan raised at a monastery the first site of his sadistic stations of the cross feels absolutely worthless He cuts himself if you’re sueamish you’ve been warned He bangs himself against walls In one particularly harrowing scene he sets himself on fire Beyond that he can’t trust anyone and doesn’t feel he’s worthy of love even though as an adult he gets nothing BUT unconditional love with one notable exception For the people who adore him not just JB Malcolm and Willem but Harold his former law professor who with his wife Julia adopt Jude at age 30 and Andy the most supportive physician on the planet this is beyond frustrating A good one third to one half of the book recounts all of that3 The way Jude’s brutal past is layered into the storyYanagihara expertly weaves the story of Jude’s abusive past into his present day narrative And in the character of Brother Luke especially she understands how abusers manipulate4 JB’s art The descriptions of JB’s art projects from his early experimental pieces as a student – one involves collecting people’s real hair – to the shows that get him attention and fame all feel authentic My only uestion would be the scope and range of his work The subjects of his art all seem to be his friends Really? He has no other interests? Or is this merely a comment on #1 above? Side note the cover photo for the North American edition is brutally powerful it’s called Orgasmic Man and captures the feeling of ecstatic turmoil vividly5 The proseObviously a book has to be decent to keep you absorbed for over 700 pages Yanagihara knows how to string you along Jude has problems walking – he’s vague in his description about how this happened – and once she plants the idea of Jude’s abuse she makes you wonder what EXACTLY happened to him And as with any coming of age book you want to know where they end up THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE PLEASE DON’T HATE ME1 The total lack of historical contextCharacters use the internet and cellphones but no world events occur The only things that register are the friends’ cultural milestones JB’s retrospective Willem’s movies which incidentally all have horrible unlikely titles Malcolm’s buildings Jude’s cases There’s something incredibly narcissistic about this Seriously? Nothing on 911? The economic downturn didn’t affect Malcolm’s Upper East Side family? JB is of Haitian background; were any relatives affected by the earthuake? No one – not one friend colleague etc – is dealing with HIV? We’re told Jude’s body is riddled with disease but never get the details2 The implausibilityNot only is Jude a top notch litigator but he’s also a brilliant mathematician AND an excellent pianist AND a singer of lieder During school full scholarship he has a job at a bakery oh he’s also an amazing baker So when and HOW did he learn how to play piano and study German art songs? Seriously I want to know What bothers me is the assumption beneath all of this Does he have to be so good at all of these things for people to love him? If someone has been abused and ISN’T as accomplished isn’t this person just as worthy of love and understanding? For that matter WHY do people love Jude? I don’t get it All he seems to be doing for the entire book is saying “I’m sorry” Which brings me toWhy are these guys all friends again? Cuz they went to the same school? We don’t get enough about their early years to know what solidifies their friendship Yanagihara just TELLS us they are friends and we have to accept it For 700 pages Which brings me to3 The RepetitionThe book needed serious editing It could have lost 250 pages easily About ⅓ of the way in I thought somewhat heartlessly I know I know “Imagine taking a drink every time Jude says ‘I’m sorry’” I’d love to search how many times that phrase pops up as well as the word “shame” Just saying We get it Hanya4 Lifestyle pornNot only do all four friends become enormous successes in their fields but they’re constantly jetting off to exotic places Paris for the weekend? Why not? buying up lofts stylish and trendy downtown of course NEVER uptown and having Malcolm decorate them in the best Architectural Digest taste And then there’s the cultural snobbery I howled when Willem was going to film Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and ALL OF HIS FRIENDS KNEW THE CHARACTERS FROM THE PLAY I’ve seen Vanya several times and even I don’t know all the characters in the play 5 Black and white charactersI’m not talking about race here I’m talking about people who are either ALL GOOD or ALL BAD We’re all somewhere in the middle but not in Yanigihara’s universe Which made me think that the book needs to be read as a fable an urban fairy tale not realism Is that why there are no historic markers? Because this is some Dickensian book set in chic SoHo? I don’t know But if these people who we spend so much time with had shading I’d probably have liked – and BELIEVED – it a lot Final thoughts obviously Yanagihara has tapped into something serious and profound with this book I think people are responding to it because in some way we all feel damaged used unloved – although not to the extent that Jude does Most of us learn to overcome our insecurities and move on He's that terrified child we all carry around inside ourselves saying we're no good we're not attractive we're not worthy of love I just wish all this had been done with a bit subtlety Life isn't so black and white Yanagihara should know that as we get older we learn to accept and live with fascinating shades of grey And that if she had brought out those complex greys the book would feel authentic and less sentimental

  2. says:

    Some believe that this is “The Great Gay Novel” That couldn’t be wrong There are only two recognizable gay men in this work JB and Caleb A creative ueen and a violent probably psychopathic sadist All the other “possibilities” are pedophiles categorically not gay—that’s a sickness an evil that has nothing to do with being gay or so hopelessly confused and impotent that you can’t know what they are JB and Willem The take on gay men here is antediluvian—a dangerous and discredited brand of heteronormative delusion in which all gay men no matter the glittering surface of their lives are fated only to die a lonely miserable death Caleb dies an excruciating death so we’re told from pancreatic cancer JB the witty flamboyant unstable creative ueen is merely a plot point His happiness told but not shown at the bitter end doesn’t mean anything than that He’s a device to wring one regret from you one sorrow You can be assured that he too will die an ignoble death just beyond this novel’s last page And you won’t be troubled or offended or titillated by the gay sex or really any sex here because there isn’t any it’s the sex that dare not speak its name All this is because the author knows absolutely nothing about gay men other than the most superficial stereotypes and doesn’t have the imagination to venture deeper than that She can’t even imagine that a man Willem doesn’t need a woman to uench his sexual needs—he has a solution readily at handSome people believe this is a novel about friendship That also couldn’t be wrong The author warns you early on 225 that friendship is nothing but the slow drip of miseries This book is not about friends it is about enablers All the main characters are there specifically to enable Jude which is precisely what destroys him Were they his friends they would never have let things progress the way they didSome people believe that a strength of this book is that the author's presence is not felt This also couldn’t be wrong There is absolutely nothing here that is not the author’s presence It is all tell and no show The characters are cartoons They can’t grow They can’t surprise All they can do is grind the meticulous plot forward They are not here for any other purpose They aren’t really characters at all just cogs in a machineEvery novel demands by necessity some suspension of disbelief But no novel can be unbelievable But that’s all we’re told Four adolescents are thrown together as suitemates at a highly prestigious Cambridge college wink wink and we’re told not shown that they effortlessly go on to become the best the most famous—trial lawyer actor artist and architect The actor and architect might sueak by as believable but not the trial lawyer not the artist From what we’re told about the trial lawyer it’s impossible to reconcile his catastrophic constricted precarious little life with the cold predatory expert were told he is From what we’re told about the artist it’s impossible to believe even in New York City’s insular and provincial art world that the same series of portraits from photographs of the same three men over and over and over again will raise him to the top of that art world The artists the real ones the author cites are all mediocre; the one she tells surely must be likewiseMoreover we’re told that that men all men have a permanent genetic stunted repertoire of emotion have a tiny emotional toolbox And that their character is fixed at some ill defined state in their past and beyond that no change can ever take place Growth change redemption—all are denied Thus we don’t get characters we get cartoons Cardboard cutouts They are here only to satisfy the deliberate plotting They are only means to the author’s ends nothing And to add to the unbelievability the villains puerile the pedophiles—Catholic clergy Dickensonian orphanage counselors a homicidal psychiatrist long haul truckers a vast nationwide network of solitary and group child predators; and of course the brutal violent gay psychopath Even granting evil is banal this is beneath banal Cartoon Cardboard What’s lacking here and elsewhere everywhere in this novel is any imagination beyond just that the banal; the puerile; the stereotypeNot to dwell on the unbelievable but it permeates this book Nonexistent syndromes Nonexistent legal cases Hyenas that climb trees And over and over and over the doctor Andy he fails every duty of care everything that physicians stand for believe in dedicate their lives to—he’s there only to enable He doesn’t report what must be reported not just legally but morally And of course plot over believability neither do any other of the medical professionals doctors and nurses a legion of them through whose care Jude passes They all turn a blind eye to the evidence of his abuse his self abuse Andy neglects to mention the very real and virtually insoluble problem of phantom pain when he explains amputation to Jude but then just that develops post op only to be brushed aside a few pages later It doesn’t work that way And really it would have meshed perfectly with the author’s plot Another failure of imagination? And fundamentally physicians don’t treat their friends their family That’s a recipe for disaster Unless disaster is precisely the aimAnd I just can’t let it go lunch at obviously Le Bernardin Willem without a jacket No way No man dines there who is not wearing a jacket And especially not an actor no matter how famous Here I guess the point where the author did let her imagination run wildAnd I’d be remiss not to mention the language Suited to its task Occasionally it seems almost to take flight but when it does it seems appropriate for a glossy travel magazine And it almost always tries to take flight in just such a milieu Bhutan the AlhambraMost people think that this 720 page novel is too long Way too long But imagine what it would be were it the size of most all contemporary novels 250 350 pages or less Half or less what it is now What would it be? Even obviously the ridiculous cartoon that it is The length is intrinsic to this work It is long patiently and meticulously plotted The very length is part and parcel of its purpose The reader made to suffer one with the gears of the plot That’s the whole pointThe leitmotif is sorrow Everyone is always saying “I’m sorry” Over and over and over and over again Of course thus sorrow loses all meaning becomes trite But meanwhile the author is carefully and meticulously adhering to the through line everyone will suffer every character the reader It’s nothing but melodramatic manipulationSo what is this after I’ve rambled on about what it isn’t? I think it’s a masterpiece of a new kind joining closely related genres such as mommy porn and the venerable bodice rippers this is authorial sadism The author is a “literary” if you can dignify her as such dominatrix Every character set up to fail no possibility of redemption growth And the person who suffers the most in the end is the reader Set up to be crushed Again that’s the whole pointAll of us are the stories we tell No less the novelistIf you read this book and found it amazing I’m sorryIf you haven’t read this book don’t

  3. says:

    A Little Life is a strong contender for the award for the most depressing book I've ever read I swear I'm not even exaggeratingAt this point I'm not certain whether this is a positive or negative review There's no doubt that this book is beautifully written and contains some of the most raw and honest prose I've ever had the pleasure or misfortune of reading but it's a long very long character study over 700 pages of misery substance abuse self harm sexual and psychological abuse and its aftermath with very little of that light promised in the blurbThere's a section of this book called The Happy Years and never has a title been misleading if you ask me But let me give you some idea what this book is about first It starts with four young friends moving to New York poor and uncertain of themselves and trying to make their way The characterization of JB Malcolm Willem and Jude is to put it plainly marvelous They are such complex well crafted individuals with their own passions hopes and fearsWhile the book details the lives of all four of them Jude finds himself at the centre of this story influencing the lives of his three friends The you read of A Little Life the you realize that it is really a novel about Jude and the other three characters though important are secondary to the story of Jude's journey from a childhood full of sexual abuse to an unhappy adulthoodThose promised The Happy Years are some of the most heartbreaking chapters I've ever read I read another review where the person said she had to put the book down because this part of the book was too close and personal To uote the reviewer I feel like someone shoved their hand in my torso and started stroking my organs while a therapist sits there observing and then asks me now how does that make you feel? I know what she means It's brutally painfully honest It makes you feel like you're witnessing something you shouldn't be in the relationship between Willem and Jude And by the way it is one of the most interesting strange and truly depressing relationships I've ever encountered The fear Jude feels that this relationship will be pulled apart by his own problems is palpable and the lengths he goes to in order to conceal his issues made me so sad for himBut I can foresee the future onslaught of negative reviews that call this book torture porn It is so helplessly bleak Everything bad that can possibly happen to Jude seems to happen and even when he finds someone to love him in his happy years that too is tainted by his pastAlso I find that very few books actually need to have this many pages Almost all books over 600 pages seem too long to me with many scenes feeling like they weren't needed and should be cut out While I appreciated the depth of the character development I'm certain that at least 100 pages of this book could have been shed without losing any emotional punch Some of the character development felt dragged out way too long; one instance that comes to mind is the descriptions of JB's art from his time building models out of hair to his paintings I feel like my understanding of JB and his relationship with art could have been achieved in far fewer pagesThis is one of those books that brings a whole lot of genius to the table but very little real enjoyment It's long slow in parts and very VERY depressing But if you are not put off by the length and the dark subject matter I would say it's the kind of book that needs to be read It's the kind of book people will talk about and it's the kind of book that has you saying this is the most bookrelationshipcharacterization I have ever readAnd that really is kind of amazingBlog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

  4. says:

    I slept with this book after I read it I kid you not I held its bulking hardcover bound 700 pages in my arms as I fell asleep amid a raging storm I refused to let A Little Life leave me Its brilliant writing its broken characters and its bleak unforgiving story dug into my heart into the very pores of my skin As a twenty year old I felt both so young and so old upon finishing this novel as if its sheer humanity aged my soul while making me appreciate all the years I still have left A Little Life follows four friends after they graduate from a small prestigious Massachusetts college Willem a kind and talented actor; JB a sharp and sometimes caustic artist Malcolm an aspiring architect at a well known firm; and Jude a mysterious and intelligent litigator What looks like an average bildungsroman turns into an intense and tragic tale when we learn about enigmatic Jude's backstory Abandoned at a monastery at birth he endured a childhood of severe physical and emotional abuse followed by several years of sexual abuse forced prostitution and psychological trauma The book soon hones in on Jude's struggle to free himself from the demons of his past the hyenas that howl and drown out the voices of his closest most beloved friendsThis book is relentlessly sad and exuisitely written Hanya Yanagihara spares us no mercy when revealing Jude's trauma She details both his past abuse and his present self harm with explicit specificity her diction so precise and piercing it made me shake and at times sob Yanagihara writes both Jude's suffering and his friendships with a keen eye She captures the nuances of human emotion physical space and change over time with elouence and heart She writes about some of the most wretched abominable acts of cruelty I have ever read without sentimentalizing any of the abuse or making any of the characters' feelings mawkishYanagihara offers us temporary respite from the pain within Jude's past by showing us the power of friendship A Little Life's most affective moments come not from its graphic depictions of violence but from its uiet uplifting portrayals of compassion While the many abusive men in Jude's earlier life show us the depth of human atrocity Jude's tender bittersweet relationships with Willem Harold Andy and others offer to us mankind's capacity for kindness All of these complex characters make mistakes and through their imperfections shines their humannessPlease keep in mind A Little Life is ruthlessly depressing In the end Jude really receives no reprieve from his anguish As someone who has suffered his own abuse a version less intense than Jude's yet still real and as someone who reads a lot about abuse I appreciated Yanagihara's dedication to showing the darker side of reality Trauma is trauma is trauma And while we can all fight for recovery sometimes that absolvement may never come Sometimes we just have to act with whatever kindness we have left and hope that it brings even a moment of light into the darkHighly recommended to anyone who wants their heart both filled and destroyed Set aside some uality time for A Little Life It will consume you

  5. says:

    It may sound presumptuous to say in January that I've read the best book I've read all year but reading is a lot like love Sometimes you just knowA LITTLE LIFE is a title with 3 meanings First it refers to its protagonist Jude a man who cannot ever accept that his life is worthwhile Second it refers to the act of reading it spending time in this book is really like living a version of lifeThere is a third meaning one that you don't discover until around halfway through the book when the title's words are used in a context that is like a punch to the gut When you read them you may find yourself having a physical reaction your stomach may flip your skin may go cold you may gasp for breath And that is a lot of what the experience of reading this book is like You can call these parts of the book words like awful but to be real you'd need to pull out your thesaurus and just line them up one after the other This is not a book that is easy for your emotions You care about the people in it so the pain can really hurt youYou will hear that this is a book about 4 friends It's not They're a nice framing device but this is a book about one person and the people who are connected to him His life is made up of extremes I found myself weeping over and over again because of the love and compassion and kindness that characters in the book displayed But this book has some of the most harrowing and horrifying scenes I've read anywhere It is not really spoiling anything to say this involves terrible things happening to a child Everyone knows from the very beginning that something bad happened to Jude when he was young It's just so much worse than you could imagine If you have trouble reading about child abuse it's probably best you not read this book While it's essential to the story it is not glossed over or referenced vaguely and what is described is truly terrible to contemplateJude is not a new character The damaged soul whose self worth never really recovers is present in a lot of modern fiction Yanagihara's trick I think is just how willing she is to plumb the depths of his darkness and its effects on those around him She follows him for decades observes him in all situations and is unflinching in her depictions Her writing is the kind of good that you can miss if you're not paying attention You are so caught up in her story that it's easy to miss just how agile and careful the book is It eases back and forth from character to character backwards and forwards in time and it never feels strainedI stayed up for hours to finish this book and then couldn't sleep because I couldn't let it go I was overcome by the book and by the loss of finishing it This is a book about love and what it means and what it can do and it is the humanity of its characters and their love for each other that will stick with meIf it was presumptuous to say this is my favorite book of 2015 since it tries to predict the future I do feel that I can dig through the past and assert with certainty that this is one of the best books I've ever read

  6. says:

    I can't with a clear conscience give this book anything less than 5 stars It's a book that kept me reading long into the night made me turn each page with vigor and curiosity gave me chills and shivers over the joys and sorrows of each character and ultimately left me feeling a bit older and tortured and yet at peace with the deeply complicated nature of humanity What Hanya Yanagihara does with A Little Life is nothing nearly as pretentious as that paragraph above Somehow in 720 pages she manages to adeuately better yet excellently show and make the reader experiences the lives of these young men The novel follows four boys who meet at college Malcolm JB Willem and the central and mysterious figure Jude It's truly Jude's tale but Yanagihara ends up telling each and every one of the boys' stories with ease and genuineness that makes them real Her prose is clean and honest and revealing of the many emotions that humans experience It's never explicitly beautiful not flowery or overwrought with adjectives or descriptors But it has its own beauty that comes from its ability to convey these feelings making you feel every pain or happiness that Malcolm and JB and Willem and Jude feel It's some of the best prose I've read in a while or ever read and I wanted it to keep going on foreverThere's so much I could say about this book About how it hurt me to read at times because yes there is very graphic material ie self harm physical sexual and psychological abuse drug use that makes the reading cringeworthy in parts about how I fell in love with so many wonderful people in this story about how I learned empathy and sorrow and frustration and anger for and with each of them and how if I were to write a book I would want it to have the essence of this one The truth is though I can't recommend this book to people not without knowing them very well Because it's a difficult journey that I can't suggest everyone take Don't take this book lightly But if you do choose to read it if you choose to flip to that first page be prepared for something inexplicable and jarring but resilient and beautiful and ultimately worthwhile

  7. says:

    a little ha at odds with how to feel Simply it truly is stunning The writing the time landscape the exploration the devastation — all of it is expertly done in my opinion My trouble is why so many people highly recommend this novel I had gotten hundreds of messages telling me to read this and then by the end I wondered why so many people want others to feel the pain of this novel I don’t say this ironically — I truly don’t understand why this reading experience is sensationalizedThis isn’t a book where the tears are grounded in hope I love a bookmovie that devastates me so I’m not saying that this book needed to have a happy ending in any sense of the word and truly if it had a happy ending it would have felt inauthentic but because this book lacks that hopeful component the story starts and ends with tragedy Because of this I’m a little wary with the impact of saying it must be readOverall despite how stunning the writing is and how much I truly deeply to my core care for Jude — trauma seeps through nearly every page of this novel It’s not something I would recommend

  8. says:

    Brace yourself for the most melodramatic pretentious dull dumb overwritten repetitive laughable cringe inducing self indulgent unbelievable stereotypical voyeuristic contrived piece of fiction After pushing through and trying to motivate myself to finish this book just to see if there's to it or some kind of message there I'm putting this book down for good 90% in Normally I would have kept going just to find out what happens to the characters but honestly I care so little about any of them they can all die or live they just remain empty caricatures to me and I have better things to readAt least it was so over the top it gave me a good laugh every now and then

  9. says:

    OMG my poor heart I can'tIf you want to find yourself sobbing late at night for characters you grow so attached to and have to put down the book for a while this is itIt’s been a very long time since a book utterly broke meBeautifully written character driven book see I like them sometimes about our friends meeting in university in New York It’s about their lives their careers their friendships their high points but mostly their low ones Trigger warnings for everything

  10. says:

    Brilliant devastating heartbreaking Fucking hatefully sad at times There are places that are overwrought and overwritten but this is an amazing engrossing novel Just wow