Woeful Wednesday: A Little Life (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 6 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Woeful Wednesday: A Little Life (A Tournament of Books Selection)A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on March 10th 2015
Genres: Asian American, Coming of Age, Fiction, Literary, Sagas
Pages: 736

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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.

It’s inarguable that A Little Life is beautifully written and takes the reader to dark places that most of us would rather not go, which is normally a plus for me, but unlike many readers I wasn’t totally swept away by the this tale.

Not only was A Little Life an incredibly slow start for me (mostly because I didn’t care about most of the early details the characters experienced) but even as I went on I found the book to be increasingly unbelievable. Not so much the horrors that Jude went through, but the incredible good fortune that he kept finding in spite of his past. I’ll save most of that type of discussion for The Socratic Salon.

A Little Life could have probably benefited from some extreme editing, I think it’s about 200 pages too long and has at least three characters that could have been combined into other characters or cut. I love long cradle to grave character study sagas most of the time, but this one just felt… I don’t know, forced? I don’t have a proper adjective.

Have you read this A Little Life, Reader? What did you think? How do you think it will fare in Tournament of Books 2016?


April @ The Steadfast Reader


  • I loved this one, but I do see your point about the success/good fortunate that the main characters eventually found (not just Jude). The odds of that among 4 college friends stretch the imagination a bit. That being said, it didn’t really bother me while I was reading the book. Looking forward to the Socratic discussion.

  • I’ve not read this yet, but I’m glad to hear a less that stellar review for A Little Life. I do really want to read it, but I’m suspicious of books that sound too good. Did you read People in the Trees? I’ve yet to read it as well, but I’m looking more forward to it.

  • To be honest, I didn’t feel too interested in this one until EVERYONE started talking about it; I’m glad to hear someone finally find a flaw – ha! Not sure I’ll get to this one, but I’ll be interested to read the discussion in The Socratic Salon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, April!

  • I loved it. It caught me at a time that I was needing the darkness. But yes, it’s a chunkster and yes, it could do with some editing. And that awful cover.

  • I can’t seem to get past the cover. I know he’s supposed to be in pain but he looks constipated to me. That’s what I think every time I look at it.

    • I thought the same thing!

  • “A terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man”? I know I should care more, but this description makes me dislike him a little bit. I’m looking forward to the Socratic Salon discussion (I’ll probably just lurk, though, as I haven’t actually read the book).

    • I still need to look up what an Assistant U.S. Attorney makes in NYC, because I’m pretty sure it’s not poverty level. 😉

  • *gasp* I think this might be the first non-glowing review I’ve seen of this one!

    Not having read it, I feel like I can’t address your specific gripes, but I look forward to seeing your thoughts fleshed-out over at TSS.