Saturday, November 2, 2013

Donna Tartt and The Goldfinch

When I say I was excited for Donna Tartt's new book, The Goldfinch, that's something of an understatement. I'd been dying to get my hands on the book since the moment I heard about it. Her first book, The Secret History, is probably the book I've read the most times (well, adult book. Madeleine L'Engle probably has more rereads for me.), and I end up rereading it every few years.

So I was also a little worried about getting my hands on the new book. I still haven't read her second book, The Little Friend; I had heard such abysmal things about it that I didn't want it to ruin The Secret History for me. That's how much I love The Secret History.

The Goldfinch, however, does not disappoint. It is still VERY different from Tartt's first book, but the fluid prose is still there, painting gorgeous pictures with every sentence. The Goldfinch follows Theo, a boy living in New York City, as he deals with profound loss and inescapable confusion. The title of the book refers to a painting that Theo sees on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the beginning of the book, and the painting itself is as much a character throughout the story as any other.

With this novel, there have been countless comparisons to Dickens for Tartt, and deservedly so. This reminded me specifically of Great Expectations, where minor characters from the beginning show up near the end, having moved things in much more important ways than you could ever have guessed. The cast of characters is large and varied, and Tartt deserves accolades just for keeping all their voices straight in such a spectacular way.

Now, did I really enjoy this book? I'm not sure if I can say yes to that. I felt like I was slogging through it at times, and I definitely felt it could have been pared down a bit. Of course, any book with almost 800 pages will feel a bit like that.

However, I am left thinking about this book. It hasn't left me in the weeks since I read it, which is rare for me. I don't think I'll be able to shake the mood of this book for a long time.

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear Donna Tartt speak at Wellesley Books. I was in a pretty terrible mood when I got there, and some comments one of the booksellers made and the fact that Ms. Tartt wouldn't sign any backlist (ie The Secret History) left me in an even grumpier mood. However, hearing Donna Tartt read a passage from the book and talk about her writing process was wonderful. She knows the book so well that it was almost like watching a one-person play. It was also clear why it takes her 10 years to write a book, as her speech does not have the clarity or fluidity that her prose does. But she spoke at length about loving writing from a young age, and it is clear to anyone who has read her books that she absolutely does love writing.

The Goldfinch may seem like a challenging book to many, but I would definitely recommend it. The quality of the prose is superb, and like I said, it's a book that will stick with you for a while.

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