A Little Life is so many things. It's huge. It's wonderful and it's awful. But I couldn't not read it once I started, even though I could tell how it would end and I was disappointed by that inevitable ending early on.
It's the story of mainly one man, Jude St. Francis, and his relationships, dominated in his early adulthood by friendships with 3 other young men, those mentioned in the book blurb, but for most of the book, his life is dominated by his relationship with Andy, the doctor who is fighting the good fight to keep Jude healthy, with Harold, who adopts Jude when Jude is 30, and with Willem, Jude's best friend and great love. Of these men, only Andy never really gets his say in the book -- there are chapters from Jude's, Harold's, Willem's, and even Malcom's and JB's points of view, for some reason. Since the book is so long, some of the changes of narrator help to keep the story fresh, but most of the early shifts seem unnecessary and even unhelpful, like perhaps the author hadn't quite decided what book this would be, and then didn't go back and change it later. And there's a strange lack of women of any kind in the novel... even Julia, Harold's wife and therefore Jude's adoptive mother, plays a tiny role. There are some strange things in the structure of this novel.
But in the end, this is both a love story and a great battle of light vs darkness in Jude's life. There's are some melodramatic, almost juvenile Romantic touches, and Jude's name is one of them. In case we don't know, we're reminded explicitly early on: St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. Early on, we know how this will end. The darkness will ultimately win. But man, are there some wonderful moments of light and love on the path there. Jude St. Francis is both incredibly, unbelievably unlucky, the victim of every kind of abuse, and incredibly, unbelievably lucky, the recipient of every kind of good love, from parents, friends, a lover.
If you're a suspense junkie, if you're in it for the plot and the action, this book is not for you. If you grow impatient over improbable (and Romantic, no, Darkly Sublime) events, ditto. But if you're in it for the journey, and can enjoy wonderful writing and characters of limitless depth who grow throughout the novel, sit back and get lost in Jude's life.