- Paperback: 832 pages
- Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (January 26, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0804172706
- ISBN-13: 978-0804172707
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.4 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3,366 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Little Life Paperback – January 26, 2016
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“Astonishing.” —The Atlantic
“Deeply moving. . . . A wrenching portrait of the enduring grace of friendship.” —NPR
“Elemental, irreducible.” —The New Yorker
“Hypnotic. . . . An intimate, operatic friendship between four men.” —The Economist
“Capacious and consuming. . . . Immersive.” —The Boston Globe
“Beautiful.” —Los Angeles Times
“Exquisite. . . . It’s not hyperbole to call this novel a masterwork—if anything that word is simply just too little for it.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Remarkable. . . . An epic study of trauma and friendship written with such intelligence and depth of perception that it will be one of the benchmarks against which all other novels that broach those subjects (and they are legion) will be measured. . . . A Little Life announces [Yanagihara] as a major American novelist.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Utterly gripping. Wonderfully romantic and sometimes harrowing, A Little Life kept me reading late into the night, night after night.” —Edmund White
“Spellbinding . . . . An exquisitely written, complex triumph.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Drawn in extraordinary detail by incantatory prose. . . . Affecting and transcendent.” —The Washington Post
“[A Little Life] lands with a real sense of occasion: the arrival of a major new voice in fiction. . . . Yanagihara’s achievement has less to do with size . . . than with the breadth and depth of its considerable power, which speaks not to the indomitability of the spirit, but to the fragility of the self.” —Vogue
“Exquisite. . . . The book shifts from a generational portrait to something darker and more tender: an examination of the depths of human cruelty, counterbalanced by the restorative powers of friendship.” —The New Yorker
“A book unlike any other. . . . A Little Life asks serious questions about humanism and euthanasia and psychiatry and any number of the partis pris of modern western life. . . . A devastating read that will leave your heart, like the Grinch’s, a few sizes larger.” —The Guardian
“Exceedingly good.” —Newsweek
“A Little Life is unlike anything else out there. Over the top, beyond the pale and quite simply unforgettable.” —The Independent
“Piercing. . . . [Yanagihara is] an author with the talent to interrogate the basest and most beautiful extremes of human behaviour with sustained, bruising intensity.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“A brave novel. . . . Impressive and moving.” —Literary Review
“Enthralling and completely immersive. . . . Stunning.” —Daily News
About the Author
Hanya Yanagihara lives in New York City.
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This novel does not lead up to a sad ending. Let me explain. Calling this novel “sad” is a massive understatement. It is 800 pages of tragedy after tragedy, because the “sad” doesn’t follow the pattern we are used to. It’s not happy and pleasant until the end where something sad happens- no, this book is a depressing hunk of paper with very little happiness in it. A Little Life is a long, winding tunnel spotted with skylights. You walk forward in the darkness with a couple of friends, and you are struck with sadness after sadness. Your friends get lost in the tunnel, you fall and break your arm, and then the tunnel gives you a foot of light where you can look around and take a breather before plunging yourself into the darkness. You don’t know what’s at the end, because the tunnel gives you no hints. You don’t know if you’ll exit into the open. You don’t know if you’ll hit a dead-end, but you keep on walking because by this point, your masochism has kicked in and you’re addicted to the torture.
We follow the stories of four characters, all college-friends who have moved from Boston to New York City in order to fulfill their dreams. Malcolm is an aspiring architect- timid and shy, whose overbearing parents are his pride and shame. JB is a painter- arrogant, optimistic and full of life, JB is the only one among his friends who is certain he will make it in life. Willem is an actor, calm and steady who has no family but his three best friends. But while the three have their own lives, their bond is strengthened by the presence of one Jude St. Francis. Jude is enigmatic. Despite having been friends for years, nobody knows anything about him; not his ethnicity or his sexuality. They don’t know anything about his childhood or his years before attending university. Jude has an injury; an accident severely limited the use of his legs, but nobody even knows how this came to be. But Jude is quiet, and he is kind and generous and dependent. And so the three friends lend their shoulders silently for him to lean on. This book is not set in one time period: years and decades pass, and each character matures, develops and experiences success and the perils of life, sometimes together, other times apart. As the narrative progresses, one thing becomes crystal clear: Jude has gone through an unspeakable childhood trauma. He is fragile and broken, battling so hard with inner demons that never seem to leave him.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-packed, plot-centered novel, put this book down and walk far, far away. A Little Life reads more like an in-depth character study than anything else. Despite there being a large, diverse, well-fleshed out cast of characters- make no mistake: this novel is about Jude. This novel is about Jude’s life, his depression, his experiences, his feelings of pain and insurmountable shame. It is a story about Jude’s relationships and his impact on the people around him. It is a story about love and loss, of betrayal and friendship, of perseverance and giving in. And because it follows the story of such a broken, intense young man, it is a difficult read.
It is a difficult read in more ways than one. Firstly, it is 800 pages long with very little action, with large chunks of paragraphs detailing the little moments in life, detailing theorems and laws and art and literature. Large chunks that talk about family, sex, career and the meaning of love- things that may not even need to be in the book. These large chunks familiarize you with our characters’ backgrounds, their introspections and streams of consciousness, their experiences with each other and outside of their immediate relationships. The characters in this novel feel real; more than once, I felt like I could reach out and touch them. They feel like friends, comrades you’ve known for a long, long time. Their happiness genuinely excites you, and their sadness genuinely devastates you. You also become so invested in their relationships with each other, almost as if you’re a mediator.
Apart from the thematic material, what makes this novel so hard to digest is the characters. I’m not exaggerating when I say that they feel like friends- watching them suffer through unimaginable things hurt me. I have never felt this way before. Halfway through the book, I had already cried at least twice, excluding the point where I sobbed for ten pages straight. And then again after. Yanagihara’s empathetic portrayal of human nature, of human decency and monstrosity is so spot-on. I don’t know what else I can say.
Secondly, it is brutal in its honest, unflinching portrayal of mental illness. There were several moments in this novel where I had to set the book aside and steady my breathing. It is uncomfortable. It depicts self-harm and depression graphically but not gratuitously, with sensitivity without doing it for “the shock factor.” Finally, the constant jumps in time frame makes this book far from a casual read. You need to keep up. Each ‘section’ takes place a few years after the previous one, but sometimes Yanagihara alternates time within paragraphs as well. One time you’re seeing the friends’ lives when they are 35, and you jump back in the middle of a paragraph to when they are 28. It can be quite jarring if you’re not paying attention.
But having said that, Yanagihara’s writing is easy to keep up with. Daunting as it may be with its intelligent discussion of many themes (some of which I mentioned above) and the sheer scale of the book, her writing is welcoming. Complex, full of emotion and genuine feeling, full of ‘quotable’ things without it ever being overbearing or ‘too much.’ Authors writing in the literary fiction genre so often give off the impression that they need to prove something, but Yanagihara writes with effortless grace and poise. She’s not trying to prove anything; this is her in 800 pages- take it or leave it.
But despite all my praises, this is not a perfect book. My main complaint is the length. Bear with me. I have no problems with lengthy books, as long as the length is justified. Many will probably disagree with me, but I felt that the novel could have been cut short by at least 50 or 100 pages. For example, towards the beginning, we get such an in-depth look into JB and Malcolm’s characters, much of which doesn’t come back after the first section. Perhaps their backgrounds could have been weaved more seamlessly into the narrative as the book went along. A lot of the objective discussions about science and mathematics were beautifully written, sure, but didn’t feel like they needed to be there. But I’ve got to give Yanagihara this: despite the length, and despite the discussions on objective topics, I was hanging on to her every word. I didn’t skim a single page- I was just that invested.
So, here we are. You and me at the mouth of the tunnel. I made it out, and you’re asking me if you should take the chance. “It’s difficult. It’s long. It’s even terrifying at times, but-” and I prod you into the darkness, “it’s also exhilarating and beautiful and one hell of an experience.”
You are probably thinking only a masochist would want to read this after being told all of that. But, there was something so beautiful about author Hanya Yanagihara’s writing. Hauntingly beautiful. To me, the book’s biggest strength is the character development: probably the best I have ever read.
The story follows four best friends from college through adulthood who struggle to find themselves in early adulthood but over time each will find their footing. One of them battles secret demons that debilitate him emotionally and physically. It is a story about friendship; but, not ordinary friendship. A supreme friendship so connected that without it one is not whole, but lost. Friendship that gives one breathe: a reason.
I purchased both the paperback (814 pages) and audiobook (32 hours at 1.25x pace!) and found myself listening to the audiobook while reading along with my actual book. I’m normally not very fond of audiobooks versus actual reading, but the narrator, Oliver Wyman, gave a voice to each of these characters and it felt that much more real when we read along together. It was like having a reading companion, and with this book you need one.
I feel after reading through various negative reviews I would like to clear up a common / thread in the negative reviews. Many of the 1 stars continually stated how long the book was and "there was no way one person could go through that much trauma... Meet that many perverts and paedophiles..." Sure the book is long, I've got nothing to clear up there; but for any of you who work in "the system," as I do, you absolutely know that the level of abuse depicted in the book is not only in the realm of reality but sadly the history of several of my clients. You may decide you can't handle the subject matter; too many traumatic details; too much cutting; you hate it because of some of the other story lines or clichés in the art community; too frustrated with Jude's inability to see himself as something different Etc. But please don't write it off because you find his level of abuse and self-loathing as "unbelievable." It may be unimaginable for most of the readers (and it should be) but for some reading the book it was a reality and some who work with traumatized clients we experience it second hand. Several 1 star raters only wrote about "how unbelievable it would be for a counselor to do that" or the 'unbelievable" crazy doctor--and to that I say look up complex trauma and the testimony of domestic sex slaves (ie Jude). True most of those I work with do not end up with Jude's career but Jude was also highly educated and later has positive, healthy relationships by 16. We know relationships are a number one factor in resiliency in traumatized patients. The book is heavy and there are happy moments but no happy ending. What I appreciated about Jude being a seemingly successful New Yorker was how it challenged the reader on how hidden the traumatized soul can be. I realize this review doesn't get into the likes but after reading so many of the 1 stars saying how "melodramatic" and "lifetime movie" Jude's story was I felt like another perspective was warranted. You may find other characters (particularly of the art scene) clichés (not necessarily unreal) or take issue with length and jarring transitions (which I found added to the intensity and disorientation in a positive way) but please rethink the 1 star because you don't find his childhood at all believable.