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Product Description

NATIONAL BESTSELLER A stunning “portrait of the enduring grace of friendship” (NPR) about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves. A masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century.

A NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST A MAN BOOKER PRIZE FINALIST WINNER OF THE KIRKUS PRIZE

A Little Life follows four college classmates—broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition—as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma. A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Hanya Yanagihara’s stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves.

Look for Hanya Yanagihara’s new novel, To Paradise, coming in January 2022.

Review

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal • NPR • Vanity FairVogueMinneapolis Star TribuneSt. Louis Post-DispatchThe GuardianO, The Oprah Magazine • Slate • Newsday • Buzzfeed • The EconomistNewsweekPeopleKansas City Star • Shelf Awareness • Time Out New YorkHuffington Post • Book Riot • Refinery29 • BookpagePublishers WeeklyKirkus


“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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1

The eleventh apartment had only one closet, but it did have a sliding glass door that opened onto a small balcony, from which he could see a man sitting across the way, outdoors in only a T-shirt and shorts even though it was October, smoking. Willem held up a hand in greeting to him, but the man didn’t wave back.

In the bedroom, Jude was accordioning the closet door, opening and shutting it, when Willem came in. “There’s only one closet,” he said.

“That’s okay,” Willem said. “I have nothing to put in it anyway.”

“Neither do I.” They smiled at each other. The agent from the building wandered in after them. “We’ll take it,” Jude told her.

But back at the agent’s office, they were told they couldn’t rent the apartment after all. “Why not?” Jude asked her.

“You don’t make enough to cover six months’ rent, and you don’t have anything in savings,” said the agent, suddenly terse. She had checked their credit and their bank accounts and had at last realized that there was something amiss about two men in their twenties who were not a couple and yet were trying to rent a one-bedroom apartment on a dull (but still expensive) stretch of Twenty-fifth Street. “Do you have anyone who can sign on as your guarantor? A boss? Parents?”

“Our parents are dead,” said Willem, swiftly.

The agent sighed. “Then I suggest you lower your expectations. No one who manages a well-run building is going to rent to candidates with your financial profile.” And then she stood, with an air of finality, and looked pointedly at the door.

When they told JB and Malcolm this, however, they made it into a comedy: the apartment floor became tattooed with mouse droppings, the man across the way had almost exposed himself, the agent was upset because she had been flirting with Willem and he hadn’t reciprocated.

“Who wants to live on Twenty-fifth and Second anyway,” asked JB. They were at Pho Viet Huong in Chinatown, where they met twice a month for dinner. Pho Viet Huong wasn’t very good--the pho was curiously sugary, the lime juice was soapy, and at least one of them got sick after every meal--but they kept coming, both out of habit and necessity. You could get a bowl of soup or a sandwich at Pho Viet Huong for five dollars, or you could get an entrée, which were eight to ten dollars but much larger, so you could save half of it for the next day or for a snack later that night. Only Malcolm never ate the whole of his entrée and never saved the other half either, and when he was finished eating, he put his plate in the center of the table so Willem and JB--who were always hungry--could eat the rest.

“Of course we don’t want to live at Twenty-fifth and Second, JB,” said Willem, patiently, “but we don’t really have a choice. We don’t have any money, remember?”

“I don’t understand why you don’t stay where you are,” said Malcolm, who was now pushing his mushrooms and tofu--he always ordered the same dish: oyster mushrooms and braised tofu in a treacly brown sauce--around his plate, as Willem and JB eyed it.

“Well, I can’t,” Willem said. “Remember?” He had to have explained this to Malcolm a dozen times in the last three months. “Merritt’s boyfriend’s moving in, so I have to move out.”

“But why do you have to move out?”

“Because it’s Merritt’s name on the lease, Malcolm!” said JB.

“Oh,” Malcolm said. He was quiet. He often forgot what he considered inconsequential details, but he also never seemed to mind when people grew impatient with him for forgetting. “Right.” He moved the mushrooms to the center of the table. “But you, Jude--”

“I can’t stay at your place forever, Malcolm. Your parents are going to kill me at some point.”

“My parents love you.”

“That’s nice of you to say. But they won’t if I don’t move out, and soon.”

Malcolm was the only one of the four of them who lived at home, and as JB liked to say, if he had Malcolm’s home, he would live at home too. It wasn’t as if Malcolm’s house was particularly grand--it was, in fact, creaky and ill-kept, and Willem had once gotten a splinter simply by running his hand up its banister--but it was large: a real Upper East Side town house. Malcolm’s sister, Flora, who was three years older than him, had moved out of the basement apartment recently, and Jude had taken her place as a short-term solution: Eventually, Malcolm’s parents would want to reclaim the unit to convert it into offices for his mother’s literary agency, which meant Jude (who was finding the flight of stairs that led down to it too difficult to navigate anyway) had to look for his own apartment.

And it was natural that he would live with Willem; they had been roommates throughout college. In their first year, the four of them had shared a space that consisted of a cinder-blocked common room, where sat their desks and chairs and a couch that JB’s aunts had driven up in a U-Haul, and a second, far tinier room, in which two sets of bunk beds had been placed. This room had been so narrow that Malcolm and Jude, lying in the bottom bunks, could reach out and grab each other’s hands. Malcolm and JB had shared one of the units; Jude and Willem had shared the other.

“It’s blacks versus whites,” JB would say.

“Jude’s not white,” Willem would respond.

“And I’m not black,” Malcolm would add, more to annoy JB than because he believed it.

“Well,” JB said now, pulling the plate of mushrooms toward him with the tines of his fork, “I’d say you could both stay with me, but I think you’d fucking hate it.” JB lived in a massive, filthy loft in Little Italy, full of strange hallways that led to unused, oddly shaped cul-de-sacs and unfinished half rooms, the Sheetrock abandoned mid-construction, which belonged to another person they knew from college. Ezra was an artist, a bad one, but he didn’t need to be good because, as JB liked to remind them, he would never have to work in his entire life. And not only would he never have to work, but his children’s children’s children would never have to work: They could make bad, unsalable, worthless art for generations and they would still be able to buy at whim the best oils they wanted, and impractically large lofts in downtown Manhattan that they could trash with their bad architectural decisions, and when they got sick of the artist’s life--as JB was convinced Ezra someday would--all they would need to do is call their trust officers and be awarded an enormous lump sum of cash of an amount that the four of them (well, maybe not Malcolm) could never dream of seeing in their lifetimes. In the meantime, though, Ezra was a useful person to know, not only because he let JB and a few of his other friends from school stay in his apartment--at any time, there were four or five people burrowing in various corners of the loft--but because he was a good-natured and basically generous person, and liked to throw excessive parties in which copious amounts of food and drugs and alcohol were available for free.

“Hold up,” JB said, putting his chopsticks down. “I just realized--there’s someone at the magazine renting some place for her aunt. Like, just on the verge of Chinatown.”

“How much is it?” asked Willem.

“Probably nothing--she didn’t even know what to ask for it. And she wants someone in there that she knows.”

“Do you think you could put in a good word?”

“Better--I’ll introduce you. Can you come by the office tomorrow?”

Jude sighed. “I won’t be able to get away.” He looked at Willem.

“Don’t worry--I can. What time?”

“Lunchtime, I guess. One?”

“I’ll be there.”

Willem was still hungry, but he let JB eat the rest of the mushrooms. Then they all waited around for a bit; sometimes Malcolm ordered jackfruit ice cream, the one consistently good thing on the menu, ate two bites, and then stopped, and he and JB would finish the rest. But this time he didn’t order the ice cream, and so they asked for the bill so they could study it and divide it to the dollar.



The next day, Willem met JB at his office. JB worked as a receptionist at a small but influential magazine based in SoHo that covered the downtown art scene. This was a strategic job for him; his plan, as he’d explained to Willem one night, was that he’d try to befriend one of the editors there and then convince him to feature him in the magazine. He estimated this taking about six months, which meant he had three more to go.

JB wore a perpetual expression of mild disbelief while at his job, both that he should be working at all and that no one had yet thought to recognize his special genius. He was not a good receptionist. Although the phones rang more or less constantly, he rarely picked them up; when any of them wanted to get through to him (the cell phone reception in the building was inconsistent), they had to follow a special code of ringing twice, hanging up, and then ringing again. And even then he sometimes failed to answer--his hands were busy beneath his desk, combing and plaiting snarls of hair from a black plastic trash bag he kept at his feet.

JB was going through, as he put it, his hair phase. Recently he had decided to take a break from painting in favor of making sculptures from black hair. Each of them had spent an exhausting weekend following JB from barbershop to beauty shop in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan, waiting outside as JB went in to ask the owners for any sweepings or cuttings they might have, and then lugging an increasingly awkward bag of hair down the street after him. His early pieces had included The Mace, a tennis ball that he had de-fuzzed, sliced in half, and filled with sand before coating it in glue and rolling it around and around in a carpet of hair so that the bristles moved like seaweed underwater, and “The Kwotidien,” in which he covered various household items--a stapler; a spatula; a teacup--in pelts of hair. Now he was working on a large-scale project that he refused to discuss with them except in snatches, but it involved the combing out and braiding together of many pieces in order to make one apparently endless rope of frizzing black hair. The previous Friday he had lured them over with the promise of pizza and beer to help him braid, but after many hours of tedious work, it became clear that there was no pizza and beer forthcoming, and they had left, a little irritated but not terribly surprised.

They were all bored with the hair project, although Jude--alone among them--thought that the pieces were lovely and would someday be considered significant. In thanks, JB had given Jude a hair-covered hairbrush, but then had reclaimed the gift when it looked like Ezra’s father’s friend might be interested in buying it (he didn’t, but JB never returned the hairbrush to Jude). The hair project had proved difficult in other ways as well; another evening, when the three of them had somehow been once again conned into going to Little Italy and combing out more hair, Malcolm had commented that the hair stank. Which it did: not of anything distasteful but simply the tangy metallic scent of unwashed scalp. But JB had thrown one of his mounting tantrums, and had called Malcolm a self-hating Negro and an Uncle Tom and a traitor to the race, and Malcolm, who very rarely angered but who angered over accusations like this, had dumped his wine into the nearest bag of hair and gotten up and stamped out. Jude had hurried, the best he could, after Malcolm, and Willem had stayed to handle JB. And although the two of them reconciled the next day, in the end Willem and Jude felt (unfairly, they knew) slightly angrier at Malcolm, since the next weekend they were back in Queens, walking from barbershop to barbershop, trying to replace the bag of hair that he had ruined.

“How’s life on the black planet?” Willem asked JB now.

“Black,” said JB, stuffing the plait he was untangling back into the bag. “Let’s go; I told Annika we’d be there at one thirty.” The phone on his desk began to ring.

“Don’t you want to get that?”

“They’ll call back.”

As they walked downtown, JB complained. So far, he had concentrated most of his seductive energies on a senior editor named Dean, whom they all called DeeAnn. They had been at a party, the three of them, held at one of the junior editor’s parents’ apartment in the Dakota, in which art-hung room bled into art-hung room. As JB talked with his coworkers in the kitchen, Malcolm and Willem had walked through the apartment together (Where had Jude been that night? Working, probably), looking at a series of Edward Burtynskys hanging in the guest bedroom, a suite of water towers by the Bechers mounted in four rows of five over the desk in the den, an enormous Gursky floating above the half bookcases in the library, and, in the master bedroom, an entire wall of Diane Arbuses, covering the space so thoroughly that only a few centimeters of blank wall remained at the top and bottom. They had been admiring a picture of two sweet-faced girls with Down syndrome playing for the camera in their too-tight, too-childish bathing suits, when Dean had approached them. He was a tall man, but he had a small, gophery, pockmarked face that made him appear feral and untrustworthy.

They introduced themselves, explained that they were here because they were JB’s friends. Dean told them that he was one of the senior editors at the magazine, and that he handled all the arts coverage.

“Ah,” Willem said, careful not to look at Malcolm, whom he did not trust not to react. JB had told them that he had targeted the arts editor as his potential mark; this must be him.

“Have you ever seen anything like this?” Dean asked them, waving a hand at the Arbuses.

“Never,” Willem said. “I love Diane Arbus.”

Dean stiffened, and his little features seemed to gather themselves into a knot in the center of his little face. “It’s DeeAnn.”

“What?”

“DeeAnn. You pronounce her name ‘DeeAnn.’ ”

They had barely been able to get out of the room without laughing. “DeeAnn!” JB had said later, when they told him the story. “Christ! What a pretentious little shit.”

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4.5 out of 54.5 out of 5
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Top reviews from the United States

borderzkai
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A tragic and memorable tale
Reviewed in the United States on September 3, 2016
You know when someone talks to you about a “sad book,” and you immediately think, “well, someone precious is going to die at the end?” A Little Life has been called tragic, depressing, a masterpiece that you cannot get through without a wad of tissues nearby, and so... See more
You know when someone talks to you about a “sad book,” and you immediately think, “well, someone precious is going to die at the end?” A Little Life has been called tragic, depressing, a masterpiece that you cannot get through without a wad of tissues nearby, and so naturally, I assumed someone would die at the end. I went into this book prepared to not get too attached to the characters, but it’s inevitable to not connect with people who are the subjects of an 800-page book with minimal spacing and tiny font. I’d like to think I went into this book prepared, but my preparation got me nowhere.

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.”
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The Smiths
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
If you work in human services, this may or may not be for you...
Reviewed in the United States on September 1, 2017
I liked this book for many of the reasons already espoused. Particularly because of the field I work-I appreciated the illustration of the hidden life and thoughts of a traumatized character. I work with abused and traumatized children and adults. If you work in the field... See more
I liked this book for many of the reasons already espoused. Particularly because of the field I work-I appreciated the illustration of the hidden life and thoughts of a traumatized character. I work with abused and traumatized children and adults. If you work in the field or closely with those around chronic sexual abuse you may decide to skip this read as it may feel too overwhelmingly like work... And it will. For me, it increased my motivation to work with this population... Particularly as this work highlights how vital it is for early age interventions (though that is not the intent or focus of the book that is my personal takeaway).

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.
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C. Petri
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Bloated, boring, and repetitive
Reviewed in the United States on December 12, 2018
UGH. I just finished A Little Life (finally!) and I thought it was AWFUL. I cannot understand the praise given to this bloated, droning, depressing piece of work. The narrative is unrealistic, the characters are completely one dimensional, and the same self indulgent... See more
UGH. I just finished A Little Life (finally!) and I thought it was AWFUL. I cannot understand the praise given to this bloated, droning, depressing piece of work. The narrative is unrealistic, the characters are completely one dimensional, and the same self indulgent torture porn gets retold over and over and over again. It’s repetitive, cliche, and unoriginal and the same awful story could have been told in 500 pages instead of 800.

I’ve heard people say the story sucks, but “it’s so well written!” I absolutely disagree. The tone is pretentious throughout and the author is so terrified of making a grammatical error that she writes stuff like “listening to the radio with which you would both sing along loudly” in order to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. The amount of “in which” “of whom” “with whom” language made this stiff and un-relatable.

0/10 do not recommend.
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Erica G Sterne
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Painful to Read. Sick.
Reviewed in the United States on March 14, 2019
I am shocked & confused by the good reviews for this novel (from other readers but also the New Yorker and New York Times). It is so painful to read. And misleads the reader into believing it is this ensemble piece about a group of college friends navigating life in New... See more
I am shocked & confused by the good reviews for this novel (from other readers but also the New Yorker and New York Times). It is so painful to read. And misleads the reader into believing it is this ensemble piece about a group of college friends navigating life in New York their various fields - but then becomes just hundreds of pages of torture and child abuse and graphic horrible details about one character. It is uncomfortable and also feels under researched and like a very long retelling of a sick little kid torturing her barbie dolls. I truly don''t understand the appeal. That said, I finished it. Hoping for a happy ending. Spoiler Alert: There isn''t one. I really hate this book.
142 people found this helpful
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Booksalottle
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
4.75-Stars: Excruciating and Diabolical, but Masterfully Written
Reviewed in the United States on May 17, 2019
I finished Hanya Yanagihara''s emotionally draining, ''A Little Life'', over three months ago and in the time since, I felt I needed to recover from her roller coaster of a novel. Imagine though a roller coaster that is on fire, but has classical music playing on its back row... See more
I finished Hanya Yanagihara''s emotionally draining, ''A Little Life'', over three months ago and in the time since, I felt I needed to recover from her roller coaster of a novel. Imagine though a roller coaster that is on fire, but has classical music playing on its back row as it dips and ascends into screaming terror and melancholic euphoria.

Upon completing this novel, I was fatigued, drained, and spent of my emotions because I have never equally hated and admired a book so much in my literary life. On two occasions while reading, I took a shot of tequila to get through particular sections. Sections where when the tequila did not help, I put the book down because the book''s content read like being hit by a Mack truck at full speed. Nothing in this novel is subtle, as a matter of fact, I equate reading it to a jackhammer puncturing hard-baked cement and you the reader is the cement. The storytelling is piercing, with plangent themes that gutted my insides, and it is so visceral that it ostensibly paints Yanagihara to be a sadistic fiend for unleashing a literary work such as this. She''s of course not, she''s simply a good writer who knows how to bring a heartbreaking story to life.

Yes, ''A Little Life'' is an agonizing read, but one that was masterfully written, offering all manner of literary rewards. Employing use of a dense, particularized writing style, Yanagihara''s prose is architectural, cerebral, and drawn out at a pace that is like molasses rolling up a sand dusted hill. From page one, I found the four protagonists to be engaging, but forebodingly so, where I immediately knew that there will be a lot to unpack in the subsequent pages ahead. Though the novel''s setting is contemporary, Yanagihara tells it in an odd but effective flashback mixed with present day style where the context of time is always abstract. Specific dates or years are never used, instead we get descriptors such as "nine years ago," "on his fifth birthday," "four years after..." This approach bothered me initially, because it made some of the flashback scenes less textural. But Yanagihara is such a good writer, she made the technique work, as it became tolerable as I read on. Again, nothing in this novel is subtle or plain, but despite the elaborately detailed descriptions, which I admired, the novel is readable. Although, I think some readers may find it to be plodding.

For me, I think one of Yanagihara''s strength as a writer is her ability to flesh out characters as if they were filigree, branching them out far and wide, but characters that have a centered, yet deeply flawed souls. As well written as each of the characterizations are here, I admit that I dislike every one of them. The four protagonists - Jude, Willem, Jean-Baptist, and Malcolm, plus two major secondary ones, Andy, and Harold - all made my emotions seesaw from vexation to sympathy, but mostly vexation. Jude, the center of the novel''s story, is especially maddening. He is a self imposed martyr, at times grating, and is in constant need of attention, attention that is wanted or not. Yet, I couldn''t help but be heartbroken for him due to his disquieting childhood and unenviable lot in life.

Another source of frustration was that ''A Little Life'' has in my opinion, an uncomfortable air of incestuous camaraderie between the six protagonists, a bothersome co-dependency that drove me up the wall. Everyone in Jude''s life - Willem, Jean-Baptist, Malcolm, Andy, and Harold, individually and collectively coddle him to such an extant that it borders on criminal. I was bothered that each of these characters allowed their hubris and selfishness to take precedence over the necessary tough love that Jude needed. The enabling and coddling became reductive, and peeved me so badly that I yelled out at my book several times. Still, despite my irritation at the imbecilic actions of the characters, I couldn''t help but regress into pity and gut-wrenching grief for each of their lives. Eventually, my dislike of the characters became irrelevant, as I don''t think characters have to be likable in order to be effective. At any given time, I was mad at each of them, but in their frustrating behavior, they made me think long and hard about human frailty.

Despite my frustrations, and even at 720 densely packed pages, ''A Little Life'' is a worthy read. Make no mistake, as it did me, this is a novel that will peel your insides and likely wreck you. There were moments where I could only read certain chapters in short spurts, with breaks between paragraphs because the content is so unsettling. Nevertheless, I read it all, because even though this is a fictional story, I can''t help but think that it is the life that some unfortunate souls have lived, and or are living right now.

I highly recommend ''A Little Life'', but again be warned, the content is visceral, EXCRUCIATING, and unrelenting. The depravity and evil that Yanagihara has showcased in these pages is unreal, and is unlike any I''ve ever read. As you progress though the novel, prepare yourself before reading pages 323-340, 392-403, 417-423. The entire book is not easy to get through, but these pages are especially ungodly. I don''t care who you are or how strong you are, I think this book is one that will wreck most. I give it 4.75 stars out of 5 for the writing, the themes, and the fleshed out characterizations, even though the novel as a whole is positively diabolical.
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Saturday Nite Reader
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
This book will stay with you for a long time
Reviewed in the United States on April 24, 2018
This book has become one of my top books of all time. It is not an easy read. It is heartbreaking, it’s a gut punch, it steam rolls right over your heart over and over and over. Cue the ugly cries and heavy emotions. It knocks the wind right out of you. You are... See more
This book has become one of my top books of all time. It is not an easy read. It is heartbreaking, it’s a gut punch, it steam rolls right over your heart over and over and over. Cue the ugly cries and heavy emotions. It knocks the wind right out of you.

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.
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AlchemyJoe
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Horrific subject matter - executed badly.
Reviewed in the United States on August 13, 2018
I read the great reviews. At the end of the day, for me, it was heavy-handed, unbelievable and reeks of being salacious for the sake of it. As a therapist, I wondered if she had done much research on childhood sexual abuse and trauma. I am not wary of difficult subject... See more
I read the great reviews. At the end of the day, for me, it was heavy-handed, unbelievable and reeks of being salacious for the sake of it. As a therapist, I wondered if she had done much research on childhood sexual abuse and trauma. I am not wary of difficult subject matter - or epically long stories. I am wary of flat, inconsistent characters with unlikely story arcs particularly when it is wrapped in a horrific child abuse narrative.
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Cathryn Conroy
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An Elegiac, Heartbreaking Story That Is a Literary Masterpiece
Reviewed in the United States on April 3, 2019
This truly exceptional book by Hanya Yanagihara is a literary masterpiece. It is, quite possibly, a work of genius. It is also the saddest, most upsetting book I have read—perhaps ever. This is not a book I would casually recommend to anyone. It is dense. It is... See more
This truly exceptional book by Hanya Yanagihara is a literary masterpiece. It is, quite possibly, a work of genius. It is also the saddest, most upsetting book I have read—perhaps ever.

This is not a book I would casually recommend to anyone. It is dense. It is intense. It is more about misery than joy, and it sucks the reader down into that misery like quicksand. It is desolate. There is (extremely) disturbing violence. More than anything, it is absolutely, totally heartbreaking. (See below for my reasons why you should read a book that is so melancholy and deeply sorrowful.)

This is the story of four college friends and roommates—Willem, Malcolm, JB and Jude—who presumably, although it is only implied, went to Harvard. The book begins soon after they have graduated and ends decades later. Brilliant and creative, each is flawed in some important way. Eventually, the story focuses more on Jude, the most damaged and broken—physically and psychologically—of the four men, who was abandoned as an infant and was severely abused, both physically and sexually, throughout his childhood. He shields and protects the dark and tragic secrets of his past from his three very close friends. We readers gradually learn the gritty, obscene and absolutely appalling details of Jude''s past, but only in bits and pieces, until eventually all is revealed. And it is truly horrific. This is not for the weak-hearted. The one thread of hope that runs throughout the book is the salvation we find in the love of enduring and abiding friendship.

So…why read a book like this, a book that is nothing but depressing and will make you feel absolutely wretched? One simple reason beyond the fact that it is truly incredible literature: It will make you a better person. It will give you empathy and understanding for those who are suffering unimaginable curses of their past. If you love someone who is depressed, suicidal, or engages in self-harm, this may give you more understanding so you can perhaps help or comfort—even if it''s only in a small way.

This is definitely not a book that I can say I enjoyed reading. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I am in awe of it. And that counts for a lot. (Near the end of the book is this line: "What he knew, he knew from books, and books lied, they made things prettier." NOT this one!)

Told with remarkable perception of the human psyche, this elegiac work of art will haunt me for a long time to come.
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Top reviews from other countries

Buddy
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Misery Memoir literary style
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 9, 2019
Not sure why I am bothering to offer my take on this book, when the way Amazon now organise reviews conspires to hide low stars, but here goes. Little Life is an overwrought tale, heavy on sexual sadism, concerning the gilded lives of priveleged, beautiful people. The...See more
Not sure why I am bothering to offer my take on this book, when the way Amazon now organise reviews conspires to hide low stars, but here goes. Little Life is an overwrought tale, heavy on sexual sadism, concerning the gilded lives of priveleged, beautiful people. The narrative rocks between the good heartedness of its characters in the present and revelations of torture against its main protagonist in the past. Skip every chapter concerning Jude, and a much better, and slimmer, novel emerges.
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Bookliterati
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
One of the best books I have read
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 5, 2018
Every year I look at the Booker Prize shortlist and buy a couple of books from it, and frequently I read the winning book as well. A Little Life was on the shortlist in 2015 and has been sitting on my shelf for two years, until my break in August when I decided to actually...See more
Every year I look at the Booker Prize shortlist and buy a couple of books from it, and frequently I read the winning book as well. A Little Life was on the shortlist in 2015 and has been sitting on my shelf for two years, until my break in August when I decided to actually read it, and it was well worth the wait. This is one of those books that will surely go down as a modern classic, it is so brilliant. The plot follows four friends who meet at college through life''s up and downs and personal tragedies; JB an artists, Malcolm an architect, Willem an actor and Jude a lawyer.  Jude is the glue to this group, and is the main focus of the narrative. There are a few chapters narrated in the first person by Willem and Harold, who is Jude''s law professor, mentor and the nearest thing to a father her has. The writing of this book is sublime in its language and Hanya Yanagihara is able to write plot lines, that in some parts are harrowing, in a beautiful and lyrical  way.  I actually found her prose hypnotic, I was drawn into this book and couldn''t tear my eyes away from the page.  There are lots of difficult issues discussed in this book, rape, abuse, suicide, drug abuse, and many more but still I was entranced by this book.  Hanaya Yanagihara shows a great understanding, intelligence and empathy towards these subjects.  Her characterisation is again wonderful, with all her characters so true to life that at times I felt like I was reading a biography/autobiography rather than a piece of fiction. In a way A Little Life is a dark Fairytale with good, evil and romance at its centre. Jude is the main character in A Little Life, and all the other character''s stories are all linked to his.  In all my years of reading I don''t think I have ever come across a character as damaged psychologically and physically as Jude.  When we first meet him in the book we know he has physical problems and throughout the book his past is gradually revealed to the reader.  Jude has experienced the best and worst of humanity through his life, and seen love in many guises from destructive love to the love of friendship that is all encompassing.  Even though his story is hard to read in places, I found him a compelling character who I was really down to and wanted him to find happiness.  Willem is the person whom he is closest to, a friendship that is unconditional and intense in places; it is Willem that is there for Jude at some of his lowest moments.  Malcolm is different in that he comes from a wealthy family, very different from Jude who has no family and Willem whose parents are dead.  His relationship with JB can be tense around the subject of race; Malcolm has a white mother and black father where as JB''s parents are both black.  JB is the typical troubled artist, very talented but also open to addiction.  Through his story there is the time old discussion of what is art, figurative painting versus the modern art of the instillation, photography and performance art.  I was really drawn into this as it something I studied with my degree and always find it a fascinating subject. To say A Little Life is a masterpiece, a Magnus opus, feels like an understatement.  I have read the winner of the Booker Prize from 2015, A Brief History of Seven Killings, and have to say I think A Little Life is so much better.  There are very few novels, except from the classics, that I keep to read again but this book will be added to that shelf to join other books that I found through the Booker Prize; Possession by A.S Byatt, Amsterdam by Ian MacEwan and The Goldfinch and The Secret History by Donna Tartt being on that shelf. This is a mesmerising, intelligent, all encompassing read and one that will stay with me forever.  This is a monumental novel in my opinion and one I will always recommend as well as those mentioned above.  A Little Life is fiction at its absolute best; the perfect novel.
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Kindle Customer Paul Moriarty
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Verbose misery
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 5, 2019
Yanagihara writes beautifully but doesn''t know when to stop.Seven hundred pages about rich New York men and their friendship.Centered round a ruthless lawyer who was brutally abused by a number of men when he was a child.Out of shame he periodically cuts himself.His friends...See more
Yanagihara writes beautifully but doesn''t know when to stop.Seven hundred pages about rich New York men and their friendship.Centered round a ruthless lawyer who was brutally abused by a number of men when he was a child.Out of shame he periodically cuts himself.His friends adore him,though it''s hard to understand what he gives them.Women are hardly mentioned.
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Nikki Smith
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Voyeuristic, simplistic, damaging.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 24, 2019
I really can see so little point to this novel, - in fact I believe it may do more harm than good - it makes me more and more angry the more I think about it. There is no equivocation that horrifying abuse happens, often, everywhere and I believe in both exposing that and...See more
I really can see so little point to this novel, - in fact I believe it may do more harm than good - it makes me more and more angry the more I think about it. There is no equivocation that horrifying abuse happens, often, everywhere and I believe in both exposing that and developing a collective understanding of its causes and impacts. But this novel doesn’t achieve anything so basic or sophisticated. The drawing of the main character, to whom all this happens, as well as his friends’ lives and responses to him, is so ridiculously simplistic and idealistic - without being in the least bit inspirational - that it reduces the graphic descriptions of trauma, uncomfortably acceptable if appropriately managed, to nothing more than parasitic voyeurism.
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TJ
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Big but not clever
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 23, 2020
The fundamental problem with A Little Life is that it doesn''t deliver what it claims to be. It is marketed as a novel about four friends, but it isn''t that at all. It is a novel about ONE person (Jude), and the other three (I include Willem here) are so wooden and poorly...See more
The fundamental problem with A Little Life is that it doesn''t deliver what it claims to be. It is marketed as a novel about four friends, but it isn''t that at all. It is a novel about ONE person (Jude), and the other three (I include Willem here) are so wooden and poorly sketched, they aren''t believable in the slightest. The bizarre thing is that in a novel of this length (700+ pages), the author doesn''t manage to develop Willem, Malcolm and JB whatsoever, apart from a turgid section inserted at the beginning of the book which exists purely to sketch out the main characters. If this were a 200-300 page novel I would still consider these poorly developed characters, but in a book of this length how can this be possible? So what DOES the author spend all these pages doing? You might assume ''a Little Life must be plot driven then'', but again, no. There is very little plot. The author constantly teases details of Jude''s early life - he was horrifically abused and injured as a child (at the hands of a catholic monk, natch), but really the book isn''t about this, it''s about how Jude tries (and mostly fails) to deal with this trauma in his adult life (mostly through copious amounts of self harm), and the impact it has on those around him. The main bit of suspense a Little Life swings on is that Jude conveniently never explains to people what actually happened to him - you think he''s about to but no, he doesn''t, and the book reverts to another hundred pages of tedious dinners and thanksgivings and memories that go precisely nowhere. I''d say you could slim this book down, but I think by bringing together all the actual stuff that happens, you would see just how unlikely and unoriginal plot is - the over-ornate misfortunates experienced by Jude, the improbability of the four main characters'' ability to be the centre of attention wherever they go and the top of all their respective fields, and actually how mundane the plot is when you distil it down: traumatic childhood > gilded success but ennui in adulthood > eventually finding love > happiness destroyed in a convenient accident > sadness, acceptance and death. The trick at the heart of this book is that its length creates the illusion that the plot has any depth or nuance, it tricks you into thinking that the characters are well developed just because you spent a load of time reading about them. It tricks you into thinking it''s clever just because everyone in it is an acclaimed artist, or an A-list movie star, or an era-defining architect, or a Harvard professor, or (in Jude''s case) a brilliant mathematician and lawyer and philanthropist and art collector all in one. But it''s not, it''s just indulgent YA literature. Once you notice the way that additional, superfluous length is being added in, this is a really frustrating read: events will be described, someone present will be reminded of an event that happened several months prior and pointless paragraphs of totally irrelevant information stretch on and on describing this until suddenly the story reverts back to what is actually happening and the narrative continues, except it feels totally disjointed. Yes, this can be used in writing to great effect, but a Little Life doesn''t do that. It just feels like pure padding. One reason I think this book has been so acclaimed, is that the author uses a Little Life to talk about the hot topic of ''identity'' (potentially a good intention), but does so in such a shallow, tokenistic and unrealistic way that it borders on offensive. The author labours so much over emphasising that the grey cast of tediously metropolitan background characters are all on different ends of the LGBT spectrum, all incredibly racially diverse, but in such a way that they are all inherently unbelievable. Just their names (Citizen van Straaten, Rhodes Arrowsmith, Phaedra de los Santos, Andy Contractor) is enough to make you cringe at how unlikely it all is. There are no characters in this who feel fundamentally real - it''s like they''ve all been conjured from a faux New York Magazine reading alternate globalist universe (where everyone is rich, by the way, but only through cool and interesting creative careers of course, nothing boring and conventional). Finally, what made me truly dislike this book is the fact that while almost all its main characters are male, the author seems completely unable to create convincing male characters, write male dialogue and describe male relationships. If you just count the number of lines of dialogue that begin with indulgent ''Oh''s and sighs and gasps you''ll know what I mean. The author wanted to create a novel about glamorous, diverse people, but it feels like ''The people a teenager from Ohio imagined they would befriend if they went to art school in New York''. I was recommended this by someone I really respect so I saw it through just to see if it got better. I would recommend others not to bother.
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