A Little Life

Thoughts allbyhy by Hanya Yanagihara, Audible Studios 2015, 32 hours and 52 minutes

Narrated by Oliver Wyman

Challenge: Tournament of Books 2015
Genre: Literary Fiction
Type/Source: Audiobook / Audible
 Why I read this now: For the Rooster

MOTIVATION for READING:  This is a book that many love to hate, others are swooning over, and some thought it ‘fell flat’. Gotta find out where I am in all that!

WHAT’s it ABOUT: Goodreads blurb:  When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

WHAT’s GOOD: It is sweeping, it ifeels epic, it is fascinating, it is friendship as love and people at their best. People at their worst. It’s heavy. At times, I was impressed. Reading through the discussion at the Tournament of Books Goodreads Group Page helped me keep a tentative and open view to what YH was attempting, maybe. I was damned curious and went along for the ride. Since it was audio, I offer no quotes…  Okay, maybe one, from goodreads:

“Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.”

What’s NOT so good:  It’s long. The trauma Jude experienced and can’t run away from ever is unending and brutal. “Do the characters grow?” someone asked me on Twitter and I don’t think they did. It just got beyond believable. If it was an issue or a quality or a characteristic, it got in this book somehow somewhere: drugs, poverty, wealth, sexual preference, cutting, art, acting, Swedish film, fancy food, racial profiling, distant parents, flying to Paris, everything and the kitchen sink. It seemed an experiment of cultural affectation.

Since it was audio, I do have to mention: I listen while driving and when pulling into my driveway, ready to find that ‘good spot’ to turn off the book…  It kept going and going and I would think – “OK ALREADY! Put a period on that sentence! take a breath. Sheeeesh.” So perhaps, a few run-on runnin’ on-and-on sentences.

FINAL THOUGHTS:  I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. I found the descriptions of life and friendship and culture riveting at times. I do think this had elements of powerful prose. I did find myself connecting but it didn’t let up. There was a glossy overlay that made it all too pretty even as it wallowed in despair. Whoa! Fancy talk for me, huh?

OK, I’m reading through the paragraphs I just wrote (and you just read to get here) and I’m laughing, shaking my head at myself. I’m glad to have read it. Would I recommend it? Nope – you’ll have to decide that all for yourself.

Based on this Twitter convo, I originally planned a ‘few words’ post:


SO on that note…

RATING:fourpie No pie was mentioned that I noted, anyway…




Copyright © 2007-2016. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

35 thoughts on “A Little Life

    1. I SOOOoo get that. I am sure that if it was in print, I would have DNF’d it. But since I didn’t have another audio clamoring for my attention, I tried to keep at it.

  1. I love the emoji review! I’ve seen several great reviews of this book and considered grabbing it on Audible but it’s so stinkin’ long. I think I’d have to plan a major trip to get it read.

  2. I am so glad you reviewed this. Initially, I didn’t want to read it, because it seemed to be such a heavy read, and I have problems with books that deal with abuse of children (he is young when it begins, right?) Also – LENGTH. And then all the glowing reviews came pouring in, and I thought, Well, maybe…Maybe I’m missing out, maybe I can handle it. And now I’ve read quite a few “meh” reviews lately, so I’m back to where I started. I think this is not for me. You helped me clarify that in my mind. Thanks!

  3. Ha – I love this! And I cannot imagine how this book would be in audio. So much of it was the writing for me and I have trouble with gorgeous writing translating to audio. Well, I also have trouble with audio in general, so….

    PS – I realized during BBAW that I didn’t follow you and have no idea why I hadn’t been! So, mistake has been corrected 🙂

    1. I love audio books! I have had some of my best reads this way. And I’m convinced that if I had attempted Moby Dick in print, I would have DNF’d. But audio is PERFECT for Moby – I would recommend it if tempted. 😉

  4. I really enjoyed the way the book is so long, to describe a “little” life. Just looking at the book tells you that this life is not little, that even the life you think isn’t worth continuing can affect other people, and what you do has repercussions that extend way, way beyond your own “little” life. I found that hopeful, in the end.

    1. Thank you. On an intellectual level, it works. I enjoyed reading about the author’s experimental approach to see how much Jude could experience and how far he could take it.

  5. I still feel hesitant to read this book, even though I love The People In the Trees. Not at all the same story, though, of course, and I feel like I can do without this one.
    I love your emoji review. 🙂

  6. I tried a read-a-long with another blogger earlier this year. Sigh. I got to about the end of the second chapter or so and emailed her – admitted defeat. It was just not the right time. I think maybe it will never be the right time for me. I have all these plans for reading the ‘great’ books or the ’emotional’ books or whatnot that I read about. Hmmm…not so much for me. I then scurry back to my nice little ‘murders’ and ‘crime’ books. And my husband is a happier man. He says I get weird when I read what’s consider literary. He likes me better when I’m reading about serial killers. LOL LOL

    Loved the emoji review!

  7. Deepika Ramesh

    Your emojis made me laugh out loud. This is certainly one of the best reviews of ‘A Little Life’ I have ever read. Thank you. 🙂 I am planning to read this during Christmas holidays. For all we know, this might hibernate with ‘Gone With The Wind’, and ‘Les Miserables’ for a while more. 😉

  8. Okay, long books have never scared me, and honestly, I never understand why people refuse to read books based solely on the length. That’s just me.

    This is one I definitely want to read. I have a copy waiting for me. Patiently. It is one I earmarked as a must-read for 2016, something I do not do very often. Based on all the conflicting responses to it, I am very curious about my own reactions.

    LOVE the emoji review. I see a new trend in your future!

    1. I didn’t complain when I read/listened to The Count of Mont Cristo! I usually don’t complain abt Uncle Stevie’s books. I might have complained abt Anna Karenina… I used to be a chunkster avoider but no more. But some books ARE too long and this may or may not be one of them. It depends on how much you want to keep in the story or how much you need the goddamn thing to end. Give people some slack abt long books, ok? I reserve my right to complain abt movies are too long, too.

  9. I’m kind of amazed that with all those meticulously prepared meals and especially the thanksgiving dinners that there was no pie. Maybe pie was too ordinary for that crowd. Jude would be more likely to prepare a pumpkin galette with cranberry compote or some such thing.

  10. When’s the last time I told you that you were awesome? It surely wasn’t recently enough. So I must say it now: YOU ARE AWESOME! And your reviews are awesome! I totally mean that, you know. I LOVE reading them. Even when I know beforehand that I won’t read the book.

  11. You know, I didn’t even mind how long it was! I love Yanagihara’s writing, and even with the reservations I had, I was willing to plow through all that length. But the unbelievability of the suffering and how it all piled up and piled up and was crazier and crazier and crazier — that’s what got me. I just think it could have been an amazing book if the author had accepted edits, which is so frustrating.

  12. Having read the print version, I don’t think the audio would have worked for me. I caught myself rereading passages every other page. Which, of course, made it seem even longer.

    1. I suggest you read ONLY the good reviews and then decide! Will that work? I DID GIVE IT FOUR STARS! I probably should have read it with many years distance but I was impatient to read it for March Madness.

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