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Summary

A novel of extraordinary intelligence and heart, a masterful depiction of heartbreak and a dark and haunting examination of the tyranny of experience and memory. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is an immensely powerful and heartbreaking novel of brotherly love and the limits of human endurance. When four graduates 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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.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.

©2015 Hanya Yanagihara (P)2015 Pan Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Critic reviews

"In person Yanagihara is breezily intellectual; all bright red lipstick, sparkly jewellery and cobalt-blue heels. And yet A Little Life has at its heart a darkness so profound you wonder both where it came from and how she mustered the courage to confront it…She is, she says, very much the sort of person who walks past strangely located doors or evocatively seedy windows and immediately wonders what lives exist behind them. For Yanagihara, you feel, they’re more likely to be damaged than not." (Alison Roberts, Evening Standard)
"Yanagihara takes you so deeply into the characters’ minds, you struggle to leave them behind." (Fiona Wilson, The Times)
"Unlike anything I’ve read before." (Alex Preston, The Observer)
"The English language novel that affected me most this year. It’s long and unrelenting but completely compelling - and it tells you, as no other novel I know does, that there are harms and injuries in life from which no recovery is possible." (David Sexton, Evening Standard)

What members say

Average customer ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Devastating but brilliant

This book is both one of the best books I've read for ages and completely awful! The story is totally compelling and the characters are real and memorable and, in many cases, wonderful. But you will need therapy and/or a duvet day or two to get over the trauma of reading it. If you think you've read the most upsetting part, you are wrong. There is much worse to come. I think relentless is the best way to describe it. I loved it and I would recommend it, but don't say I didn't warn you.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Deeply disturbing and yet i couldn't stop reading

This book isn't for everyone and there were times when I had to put it down because the violence was so graphic, but I was compelled by it and felt like I'd lost something when it ended. There are plot holes and developments that don't ring true, but for all that the story surged forward. It's a hard one to recommend, given the lack of redemption, the violence, the relentlessness of suffering, but it's an engrossing story and a totally immersive experience.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

If you like misery, this is the book for you.

Was recommended this book by my sister. Not taking advice from her again! What initially started out as the lives and perspectives of 4 interesting people soon became the tortured inner monologues of one. My goodness the misery! There is so much of it that it becomes unbelievable when another disaster unfolds. Dominated by male figures, both good and (majority) bad, this book would put you off meeting anyone. The last third was particularly hard to listen to, so monotonous and dreary. I had to pause regularly to look at funny pictures just to remind myself the world isn't that bad!

If you want to feel miserable with no sense of justice or satisfaction in a story, grab junk food, tissues and download this book. I'm going to listen to a comedian's autobiography next time!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Shocking, heartbreaking, brilliant.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend this book but with the proviso that it is a book that will possibly upset you, shock you, horrify you. But it will grab you by the throat and not let go until the last page. And even then it will haunt you for a long time. It is not a book that you can listen to quickly and is best listened to in long stretches, concentrating on all the nuances and detailed layers of character and plot.

What was one of the most memorable moments of A Little Life?

There are too many moments, many of them brutal and shocking, to mention. This story is complicated and told from more than one viewpoint and is a tour de force of visceral writing. I can still see many of the pivotal moments playing out in my head. For me it was a very ' visual' story.

Which character – as performed by Oliver Wyman – was your favourite?

Oliver Wyman is a terrific, gifted narrator and he managed to make every character come alive. Jude, the main protagonist, was believable and I became totally immersed in his story. But for me the character who caught myattention the most was Willem, Jude's best friend, protector and partner. He was the epitome of what true friendship should be and I cried for him, laughed with him, rooted for him, empathised with him and all because of the way in which the narrator portrayed him.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

One little life, four huge hearts.

Any additional comments?

This is a story of love, friendship, sexuality, relationships, culture, disability, discrimination and abuse (of all descriptions) and all tied up in the lives of four men who meet at a small American college. They remain friends for the rest of their lives, with various ups and downs, and forge bonds that see them through the need to support Jude, and the mysteries that surround his early life. It is a fantastic read, one that will make you laugh and cry, one that will make you dread the next sentence, one that will make you flinch and question what you know about people and what it means to be human.
I will definitely listen to this again. One of my top five books of 2015.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Just not for me.

Too long and I found myself becoming more and more irritated by the 'goodness 'of the characters and annoyed by the over use of 'Im sorry. I'm so sorry' .. also didn't buy the Jude story really. But it was beautifully crafted and read really well. Sure lots of people will love it

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Wow!!

Fantastic book, but quite harrowing and difficult to listen to in places. The story flowed beautifully, and although it was a very long book, still I didn't want it to end, and could have listened for another 10 hours quite easily.
The narrator can make or break an audio book for me, and this one definitely made it.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Dull and long with the odd brief interesting part.

So many recommended this to me but I struggled to drag my bored brain to the long awaited finish line. I'm glad it's over.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Mr
  • Sutton Coldfield, United Kingdom
  • 16-11-16

Don't listen if you need picking up

I found this book quite tough going, it is a pretty depressing subject matter and the tone of the narrator seems to amplify this. I found I was drifting off thinking of other things rather than listening to the book.

Still, I made it to the end, just.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Relentlessly depressing

After investing 30 hours of my life listening to this book, I finally realised it was never going to get any better, that there was never going to be a redeeming moment when it was going to come together and Jude would finally get the moment he deserved. It just went on and on and on and rarely in all my life have I come across anyone who has been so ill used in the whole of their life.

Needless to say, I didn't finish the book and was really sorry I started it.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

The most moved I've been by a book

Both the narration and the story were excellent. Moving, relatable, bittersweet, tender and beautifully written.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Amrit Daswaney
  • 02-08-17

Heartbreakingly excellent.

This is by some distance the best book I've heard in 2017. Performance and story.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Linda
  • 20-07-17

compelling

heartbreaking and thought-provoking. the reader was excellent. sorry to see it end. anyrhing else is a spoiler

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Linda
  • 07-06-17

A modern masterpiece

Best book of 2016. Very well presented. I recommend it without reservation. A beautifully crafted story that will stay with me for a long time

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Ruth
  • 13-03-16

Recommend you take Zoloft with this

Any additional comments?

Clearly a well written novel but if you're not clinically depressed before you start you will be by the end of it........ or even a third of the way through.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Clemo
  • 13-08-17

If you like a victim

Awe inspiring recount of a horrific child abuse by the Catholic Church, their unaccountability, pedophilia and grooming. The reader really feels for this poor child who grows up to be very successful except in coming to terms with his past, the injuries and confused somewhat misplaced attachments formed in later life.
Went on for a bit too long, perhaps a case of having too many enablers

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Jane
  • 09-03-17

Long, tiresome, sad

I was disappointed with this novel: too long, lots of unnecessary additions and a COMPLETELY unrealistic depiction of adoption, homosexuality and friendship.

I loved the narration, wonderful! But sadly, I don't think I'll ever be listening to this book again.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Lisa
  • 06-02-17

Unforgettable Narrative that Gets Under Your Skin

I approached this book with reservations, 42 hours of listening time, some grim reviews & a harrowing subject matter! But although it took some time to get into it, I found it intriguing & compelling.
The characters became my companions, as I learned more about them I wanted to spend more time in their company.
There were certain phases when the sheer misery was a chore, but most of the time it was addictive.
If I had to pick 3 words to describe this book - shocking, uplifting, intriguing.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Angela
  • 18-10-16

Mesmerizing

Beautifully written story about abuse resulting in shame, self flagellation and guilt. A compelling read and so so sad.

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
  • Michael
  • 10-08-16

Boring

The most over-written repetitive boring garbage ive ever read. Phrases, descriptions, sentences repeated throughout the book. Maybe its a farcical send up of "modern ametican wtiting"?

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Dean
  • 04-01-16

brilliant

Brilliant novel, which you can read about elsewhere. Just wanted to praise narrator Oliver Wyman for an astoundingly great job that injects this story with so much life, love and sorrow. Couldn't recommend this audio book enough.