What to say about “The Goldfinch” that hasn’t already been said before?
This has got to be one of the most talked-about and hyped up launches of last year : Donna Tartt, infamous for being somewhat reclusive and producing a phenomenon once every decade, duly produced her third book in October 2013 to a much deserved blaring of fanfares and blowing of bugles.
Stephen King is a fan of the book, and his review in the New York Times sees him comparing the author to our friend Dickens and the beginning of the story to none other than “Rebecca”, no less. Rather like the “Tulip Fever” theme, he is beguiled by the role that art has to play in “sav(ing) us from the ‘ungainly sadness of creatures pushing and struggling to live’”.
The Vanity Fair article we passed round at the book group went meanwhile to great lengths to question just how good a book this is, and at nearly 800 pages it’s not a tome to carry round lightly. A good year on from its publication date, the furore is starting to calm down, and time will tell whether or not it will be deemed a classic, and make its way – or not – into the “1001 Books You Must Read Before you Pop your Clogs”. I would be surprised if it didn’t. It is quite a mountainous trek getting from page one to page 784, but it is worth the occasional uphill slog and the backpacking. The beginning is like “May We Be Forgiven”: unputdownable. Gripping, visual, quite breathtakingly brilliant. You hold Theo’s hand as he is in that New York taxi with his mother on page one, and you feel the inedible imprint she had made upon her son from the outset (“And though it’s a bleak thing to admit all these years later, still I’ve never met anyone who made me feel loved the way she did”).
Donna Tartt is a magical writer. She has such a way with words, and you can see how her self confessed years of sitting quietly observing people and human nature in coffee shops translates onto the page. She introduces us to a whole world of very clearly defined characters, including the fabulous Hobie and the Estelle-like Pippa, and we share his every moment for quite some time until reaching Amsterdam and the grande finale. I thought the ending of the novel was spot on – struggled like mad through the middle and an awful lot of ‘bad behaviour’ that I could see and appreciate, but felt kept hitting me repeatedly in the gut for a couple of hundred pages too many (I get it! I get it!). So was massively pleasantly surprised with the way D.T. wraps up this ambitious slice of life, and what is also a forage into the world of art, via such a small yet perfectly formed goldfinch painting.
“Too much – too tempting – to have my hands on it and not look at it. Quickly I slid it out, and almost immediately its glow enveloped me, something almost mystical, an internal sweetness that was inexplicable beyond a deep, blood-rocking harmony of rightness, the way your heart beats slow and sure when you were with a person you felt safe with and loved”.
And oh! just really loved the references to novels like Barbara Pym’s “Jane and Prudence” sitting on his mother’s bedside table, to “The House of the Seven Gables” and gosh to descriptions of “the paths…tree-shadowed, haloed with streetlamps, mysterious and inviting like the woods from ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’” – what a perfect Mr Tumnus moment!! This book really is something special.
Read February 2014.
Rated : 10/10
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize 2014, Shortlisted for the Baileys’ Prize for Fiction 2014, Amazon Best Book of the Year 2013, Shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award 2013, New York Times Book Review Top 10 Best Books 2013…..