While I have been reading as much as ever, I have been so busy with other things that I’ve not really had time to write reviews for the last couple of months. For one thing, we have a new grandson, Arthur, and our daughter has needed help with the baby’s two sisters, Iris and Florence, who are both under five years old (leading to many afternoons surrounded by plastic bouncers, ball-pools and climbing frames in “Soft Play”). I’ve also taken on the creation of a website for a charity which is taking up huge amount of my time. However, I’ve found time today to write a review of a book which has consumed much of my attention for the last week and here it is:
I am one of the many people who have been waiting for years for Donna Tartt to bring out a novel equal to her first – The Secret History. Her Second Novel, The Little Friend, did not really hit the spot for me, although I read through it happily enough while waiting for the same literary buzz that The Secret History gave me. Now at last, Donna Tartt has met my expectations by producing this fantastic, nearly 800 page novel, The Goldfinch.
I was fortunate enough to see a review copy of the book and while I was initially daunted by the scale of the book (and not exactly attracted by the blurb on the cover), I started to read it and was immediately drawn in and captivated. There is something about good writing which makes is just as satisfying as a good meal. I found a sort of nourishment going on in my head as I read through Tartt’s elegant prose. It’s not just the elegance however, it’s the sheer pulsating interest of the book – this is the ultimate “good read” sought after by book-lovers the world over. Even the first chapter has an extremely dramatic event at it’s core, and straight away you find yourself wondering “where can this go to next”?
Many reviewers have suggested that there is a sort of Dickensian feel to this book for like Dickens, Tartt can delve into huge amount of detail without being boring. There are even some similarities between The Goldfinch and Great Expectations in the way that a young boy finds fame and fortune through an extremely convoluted route.
Although the book has an epic scale, it can also seem microscopic in the way the author recounts small episodes. A tour round an art gallery makes you feel that you are there yourself, and nobody reading this book will be able to resist seeking out the painting of The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius on the website of The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in order to ponder the predicament of this tiny bird, chained to its perch.
At the centre of the book is the life of young Theo Decker, a young boy whose finds himself motherless and abandoned by his disreputable father (what a picture of grief Tartt portrays in the first part of the novel!). He is fostered by a wealthy family in Greenwich Village where he finds himself the subject of whispered conversations, perpetually on the edge of this eccentric family. Through a chance (but serendipitous) meeting with a far more accepting furniture restorer he finds himself being inducted into the mysteries of the antiques trade and the arts of renovation, all beautifully described by the author.
Later, Theo’s father turns up with his current girl-friend to claim his son and drag him off to Las Vegas, which turns out to be a far more alarming existence in the depths of “Sin City”. Here at least he meets his life-long friend Boris, a real Artful Dodger character who will accompany Theo through the main adventure of his adult life.
There is so much in this book – few people will not be fascinated by his Greyhound Bus trip back to New York, or much later on, by the serious criminality which yields huge financial returns as Theo gets embroiled in a dangerous world of gangsterism in Amsterdam. This is only a fraction of the events contained in this book however, and I wouldn’t even try to mention more for fear of spoiling it. Very often, “literary fiction” meanders along on a wave of stylish phrasing and highly-refined atmosphere. Donna Tartt, while being a “literary” as any living author, does not hesitate to employ her elegant writing style to describe murder, drug abuse and general mayhem. In fact, had the book been compressed to about half its length it could be re-cast as a thriller with little difficulty. But then we would have lost the whole point of the novel: it’s epic scale (Dickens again, or maybe even Dostoevsky) its vast scope and its immersive qualities. With it’s 700+ pages this is no quick read, but I would not want to have a single page cut from it.
There are so many reviews of this much-awaited book that it’s easy to be put off reading it for fear that it can never live up to its promise. However, I would urge you to put aside the views of others and dive into this vast but totally absorbing world. I think that like myself, despite The Goldfinch’s great length you will end up wanting to spin it out to prevent it from ending too soon. Altogether a masterly work of fiction well worth waiting for.