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BUtterfield 8

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  1,270 ratings  ·  121 reviews
A bestseller upon its publication in 1935, BUtterfield 8 was inspired by a news account of the discovery of the body of a beautiful young woman washed up on a Long Island beach. Was it an accident, a murder, a suicide? The circumstances of her death were never resolved, but O’Hara seized upon the tragedy to imagine the woman’s down-and-out life in New York City in the earl ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 280 pages
Published by Bantam (first published September 1934)
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Halfway through the novel is this passage: " seemed to him as though he and Gloria were many times on the verge of a great romance, one for the ages, or at least, a match for the love and anguish of Amory and Rosalind in This Side of Paradise and Frederick and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms. With this, we are reminded that O'Hara is a contemporary of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, with even some similar preoccupations, notably love in a time of Prohibition. But this is where the resemblance end ...more
Man is this a hell of a book-- it's, as much as anything else, a portrait of NY life ca. 1931 that is maybe the least varnished I've ever seen. It's like every question whose answer you doubted when you heard it in history class is re-answered here, in totally convincing and layered fashion.

In her introduction, Liebowitz talks about the difference between O'Hara's knowingness (which she thinks is bad) and his knowledge (which she sees as good). But for me, it's impossible to distinguish them.

My copy came courtesy of the publisher.

Reading John O'Hara is like stepping into a time machine. He completely immerses the reader in the speech patterns and atmosphere of the well-to-do speakeasy set. Even though this novel, like Appointment in Samarra, is filled with truly despicable characters, all of whom seem to be drunk, cheating liars, I loved reading it. From the opening scene of Gloria waking up in a stranger's apartment with her dress ripped, O'Hara grabbed me. (It probably didn't hurt
Diane S.
Rather unlikable characters, their lives in New York, 1931 and inspired by a true event. First time I have read this author but it will not be the last. The passion in his writing, wonderful prose, the characters interactions with each other, the speakeasies, well to do people and their desolate lifestyles all combined to make this a very atmospheric read.
May 29, 2008 Michael rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone researching the development of the American novel
O'Hara writes with such an intense passion and excitement that it is a very difficult book not to like. But unfortunately, much of the brilliance lies within that passion and excitement, and not in the story or characters involved. The author's sense of dialogue is tremendously flowing and spot on, but at novel's end you have that lip-biting feeling that you've just read an unfinished masterpiece. Read it for the character's interractions with one another and for O'Hara fiery prose.
My first encounter with B8 was a scant three minutes on television. Elizabeth Taylor lolling about with her hair mussed and a drink in her hand.
"It's awful," my mother said as she changed the channel. "She should have won that Oscar for Hud." To which I took away that Elizabeth Taylor movies cribbed their titles from rejected candy bar names.
Four decades later, I agree that the movie is awful. And the book is awful too in all the right ways. This is a sharp and still relevant take down of class
Gabriel Valjan
BUtterfield 8 – the camel-case title references retired telephone exchanges – is O’Hara’s ‘ripped from the headlines’ novel. A real murder inspired the novel. Elizabeth Taylor as Gloria Wandrous earned her her first Oscar in 1960 for the 1935 novel adapted to the big screen. The novel is provocative: it details up-town and downtown adultery with cross-town machinations. Fate hinges on a telephone number and a mink coat. The novel uses the word ‘slut,’ which should remind readers that their grand ...more
Another scalding piece of American realism from John O'Hara, BUtterfield 8 moves away from the author's "Gibbsville," Pa., home locale to depict a dozen or so main characters from a wide range of Manhattan social classes, who cross daily as equals only in the strangeness of the city's Prohibition-era speakeasy life. It is not a pretty picture, but deftly drawn with his great, great dialogue and unerring characterizations -- a love story, in its way. O'Hara makes me think of two very different wr ...more
I feel rather divided about this book. I believe that I didn't enjoy it more because it lacked something that let me emotionally connect to the characters in a consistent way. It was choppy in that regard. It was very matter of fact, very linear. There were spells where I would read steadily, following along and trying not to be bored to tears. And them, I'd just fall in, like an unexpected drop off in a swimming pool. I'd find myself deep into some truly beautiful writing. It would be descripti ...more
There are a number of "classics" sitting on my shelves to be read. This summer I picked up BUtterfield 8 and dove right in. I had almost no idea what to expect. I'd never seen the movie and hadn't really ever heard anything about the story. Reading the back cover gave a slight insight, but still left me wondering what to expect.

The book started out a little slow, but still very vivid. O'Hara writes with great description and passion and was able to make the scenes very alive and full. However, f
Jun 08, 2010 Katrina marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I found a page from this book on the ground in Brooklyn in May, brown and torn and mostly disintegrated. The bit that was legible drew me in, though, and thanks to Google books I was able to find out what book it's from! I wonder if this was a sign that I should read this book or just a sign that someone's copy was due for retirement.


Nice and sexy at the start, with everyone walking around in their underwear ... moves through some misogyny and casual racism (it’s the 1930s) and ends with a disappointing splash. But fun along the way. Gloria is great:
"In the bathroom was a dressing-table with triplicate mirrors and many lights. Even the front of the draw had a mirror, and whenever she noticed this she thought about the unknown person who designed the table, what he or she must have had in mind: what earthly use could there be
Mary Peck
Gloria's story is rather like watching a tragedy unfold. You know it's coming, and you know it's going to hurt, but you just can't seem to look away. From her first action (taking the coat as repayment for past sins) the story rolls along and picks up momentum until there's only one possible end. Do you see it coming? Sure. But you're still going to enjoy the trip.
Martie Nees Record
The novel was published in 1935, every chapter mentions speakeasies, as well as then current; politics, books, movies and news headlines, making the reader wonder if it was written in the present trying to give the feel of being set in the 1930s. Furthermore, making the book feel modern is the liberal way women and men’s attitudes to sex are discussed. The heroine, Gloria, (Elizabeth Taylor plays the character in the movie) masturbates two pages in and is a promiscuous bisexual. Written a tad to ...more
An interesting read, if only to puzzle over the differences between it and the 1960 Elizabeth Taylor/ Laurence Harvey movie.

The big difference is that in the book Gloria is a sexually liberated – for 1935, its year of publication -- young woman from a moneyed family, while in the movie she is an upmarket call-girl. Each treatment provides more entertainment than insight: the book is an extended New Yorker story; the movie an extended photo shoot of Taylor in her Most Beautiful Woman in the Wor
M. Newman
This is a terrific book that takes place in Prohibition era New York City and chronicles the activities of the "beautiful people." It is loosely based on the true story of an unidentified young woman whose body was found floating in Long Island Sound. O'Hara imagines the dead woman's journey towards her death. The main character, Gloria Wandrous, is a promiscuous alcoholic whose life was, to a large extent, shaped by a childhood episode in which she was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend. ...more
Vivek Tejuja
I remember the first time I watched BUtterfield 8. I was dazzled by the plot and more so by Elizabeth Taylor. I grew up some. I grew up some more. At twenty-five I realized that it was adapted from a book by the same title, written by John O’Hara and I could not wait to get my hands on it and devour it. I searched everywhere – high and low, but could not find it anywhere. This was way before the online shopping mania struck us. Somehow, I managed to find three of his novels in one book – Appoint ...more
A realistic and gritty look into the social class system of the 1930s, although much of the moral monstrosity displayed could easily fit into today's lower and upper classes. O'Hara does a remarkable job with the character of Gloria Wanderous, the last name spelled as "wander" builds up the call-girl mantle Gloria assumed for herself at a young age. The novel opens with her in a strange man's apartment, not strange in the biblical sense, and advances through a chain of events begun the night bef ...more
Hmmmmm...still undecided what I think about this one.

Surprised this was written in 1930--pedophilia, sex, drugs, alcohol (OK, not so surprising), girls staying out all night and sleeping around, abortions, there's even a murder/suicide thrown in there as an aside. All set during the depression, with some of the men trying to get work, others having plenty, others happy to have a job though their income is down. None of this is new, though the modern media would have us think so. And this book w
This was confusing and depressing. I somehow had the vague and erroneous impression all my life, based on the movie box covers with Elizabeth Taylor, that this was some kind of suspense story. It might be because the title is a telephone exchange, and movies about phones or phone calls, and pretty girls are usually ominous. Oddly, the phone and phone numbers have nothing special to do with the book.

This is just a cynical, trashy story about a wayward girl who gets mixed up in an affair with a ma
John O'Hara's Gloria Wandrous -- immortalized in the movie version by Elizabeth Taylor -- stands beside Sally Bowles and Holly Golightly in the rich history of detached women who wear their sex on their sleeves and draw a legion of male admirers, among them the wealthy (who want them for mistresses), the artistic (who chronicle them), and the queer (who admire their style and brazenness).

O'Hara's book is a dapper slice of life in upper-crust Manhattan circles affected but not quite driven under
Gloria Wandrous is one of the most enigmatic characters I've met in novels lately. She is compellingly confident as she walks into one speakeasy then the next, sleeps with this man then the next. Yet she is terribly shy and cites her shyness as a reason for once sleeping "with a man with four other people looking on; two men, two women." Yes, of course. If shy, try a six-some? I realize I'm late to Butterfield 8, but what a commanding and effortless use of third-person omniscience. In less capab ...more
John Maniscalco
This book was inspired by a news account of the discovery of the body of a beautiful woman washed up on a Long Island beach. The circumstances were never discovered and BUtterfield 8 is O’Hara's take on what the woman's life would have been like in New York City in the 1930's. What I love about O'Hara is his ability to make you care deeply about his characters in a very short book (much like Steinbeck), even if they are not very likable. Though O'Hara can be somewhat formulaic -- a wealthy socia ...more
Dana Jennings
Penguin Classics edition with introduction by Lorin Stein. Here is an excerpt from the introduction which I read before starting the novel and again when I finished. "On O'Hara's gravestone it is written: 'Better than anyone else, he told the truth about his time, the first half of the twentieth century. He was a professional.' O'Hara's camp up with the epitaph himself. The claim is debatable (and tacky) , but it's useful when reading Butterfield 8 to bear that ambition in mind, for O'Hara alway ...more
Patrick McCoy
Last I read John O'Hara's classic first novel, Appointment in Samarra, and really enjoyed it and vowed to read some of his other work. And recently in Slate there was a piece on BUtterfield 8 (1938), it was related to how this book can explain the economic depression of current times. I liked this story of a fast young woman, Gloria Wandrous (the literary godmother of Holly Golightly-it seems she is a later incarnation of this party girl), in the midst of the depression. She's a fast living and ...more
What an interesting and unique story; I was completely immersed right from the start! So many good characters, it was sometimes difficult for me to keep everyone straight, but they all added to the richness of this tale. I thoroughly enjoyed the vantage point of the depression era to watch young, beautiful Gloria struggle with the decisions she was making in her life and the many men she attracted. I really enjoyed this!
Unsentimental and insightful. In many ways, this novel seems so ahead of its time ... except for a few places where it isn't, and I found myself cringing at some casual racism or skimming over a digression on John Held, Jr.'s cartooning style. Almost perfect (but not quite up to the level of Appointment in Samarra). The Penguin Drop Caps edition is gorgeously designed.
Having never watched the movie, I feel I was pretty much a blank slate reading this. I found that I just feel disappointed ... All of the characters seem so underdeveloped that I really couldn't connect with them, even though I wanted to. I often felt I had to spend time remembering who some characters were because I forgot about them. I feel this book is more about a time period than about an actual story. This easily could have been a riveting short story by eliminating everything but the last ...more
Niki Harris
While the interweaving of the characters' storylines was markedly fascinating, the story took a long time to take off. I didn't enjoy the superfluous details about characters who hardly came into play, and the whole thing was a bit dull for my taste. The ending wasn't all that shocking, and it wrapped up too quickly.
Wow. This is an amazing book. John O'Hara's writing style is really spectacular. With amazing economy (the book is just over 200 pages long) he creates a complete picture of multiple characters, their lives, their desires and fears.

It initially felt a bit dated. It was written in the early 1930s and he uses a lot of slang from the time - just throws it in. Don't be put off by it. I realized it was like reading Jane Austen - these small things go by and you don't know what they are but they don't
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John Henry O'Hara was an American writer born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He initially became known for his short stories and later became a best-selling novelist whose works include Appointment in Samarra and BUtterfield 8. He was particularly known for an uncannily accurate ear for dialogue. O'Hara was a keen observer of social status and class differences, and wrote frequently about the social ...more
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“There comes a time in a man's life, if he is unlucky and leads a full life, when he has a secret so dirty that he knows he never will get rid of it. (Shakespeare knew this and tried to say it, but he said it just as badly as anyone ever said it. 'All the perfumes of Arabia' makes you think of all the perfumes of Arabia and nothing more. It is the trouble with all metaphors where human behavior is concerned. People are not ships, chess men, flowers, race horses, oil paintings, bottles of champagne, excrement, musical instruments or anything else but people. Metaphors are all right to give you an idea.)” 3 likes
“Bing: You’re a heel…a low down rotten heel…anything that doesn’t go your way, anything that you can’t have you destroy.” 3 likes
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