My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What this book is about:
Theo Decker is starving, as he is walking with his mother the busy streets of New York, but he doesn’t want to ask her to stop somewhere and get breakfast. She will be so angry at him once she finds out what the school principal wants to talk to her about. When the drops starts pouring, Theo and his mom seek shelter from the rain in the Dutch gallery where Theo is mesmerised by both a painting – The Goldfinch – and a young girl who keeps looking at him. After a terrorist bomb attack, Theo turns out to be one of the fewest survivors. In his delirious panicked state and effort to get out of the museum he takes The Goldfinch with him and unwillingly changes his life forever.
Donna Tartt won the Pulitzer prize with her most recent novel, The Goldfinch, in 2014. A massive 850 paged tome on the story of Theodore Decker, starting from his early years, aged 13, and ending in his adulthood. I happened to listen to the audiobook of this novel and it was just wonderful. I truly recommend that if you enjoy audiobooks, you try to listen to this story rather than read it. The narrator has such a crisp voice that fits Theo perfectly and really gives life to the already wonderful story and characters. The novel is written in twelve chapters, each chapter delving into a different era or period of influence of Theo’s life.
I loved the sandalwood perfume she wore, rough and unexpected, and I loved the rustle of her starched shirt when she swooped down to kiss me on the forehead. And her laugh was enough to make you want to kick over what you were doing and follow her down the street. Wherever she went, men looked at her out of the corner of their eyes, and sometimes they used to look at her in a way that bothered me a little.
Donna Tartt has created an honest autobiography of Theo, an extremely flawed protagonist, as he recounts his life from his own, unreliable perspective. Although, as I mentioned, the story spans for more than a decade of Theo’s life, the plot is not packed with events and circumstances. As in most people’s lives, realistically, Theo’s accounts are specific occasions which inadvertently affect his life. But what is different in Theo’s story is that his life is such an interesting narrative of some gripping and extraordinary events that lead to the downfall of a bright young boy that happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. This story is not for everyone though. Here we have 860 pages of narration that could have been recounted successfully in 350 pages. But Donna Tartt dared to go beyond – she has such a talent in that – and tell us a story not through paragraphs but through words put simply next to each other to create, not a novel, but an experience.
I don’t remember crying, or eating either, though all these years later I can still smell the scrambled eggs they ordered for me; the memory of that dropped plate with the steam coming off it still ties my stomach in knots.
It is important to note, again, that many people will not like this novel. Readers will justifiably become tired and bored of the numerous meaningless descriptions and wanderings of the protagonists’ minds. To this, the only advice I can give is that should you pick this book up, if you find yourself tired in the first 100 pages, you might want to give up reading it. The writing style and the long narrative portrayals of minute details steadily remain throughout the novel to the end. Maybe even increase in the end. But! This novel is a jewel for fans of literary fiction of brilliant, wonderful prose and in-depth exploration of the psyche of one person. As I said, this is not a novel but an experience and I can only admire the author’s skills in passing on the ambience from her words to my mind.
How was it possible to miss someone so much as I missed my mother? I missed her so much I wanted to die: a hard, physical longing, like a craving for air underwater.
Prepare yourselves for a depressing utterly catastrophic story of the consequences of reality and hardships of life in a modern setting. Theo meets a few people who affect his life for ever. Hobbie, a man who cares for him and teaches him everything good in life that Theo is smart enough to learn. Boris, his only friend in a crucial period of character molding and growing up, to whom Theo turns for companionship and who teaches Theo everything that is bad in his life. Pippa and Theo’s mother, two ghastly figures that he idolises and turns to in despair and solitude. This is such a rich and heavy novel that took me more than a month to finish. It’s one of these books that look big and indeed are crawling reads that you can’t finish fast even if you try.
But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself look out over a brackish wreck which was illuminated in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.
While I cannot but praise the talent of the author and the captivating, dazzling novel she crafted after what seems an inconceivable amount of research and self wandering, I did at times feel that the lengthy paragraphs were a little overwhelming, a little tiring, a bit too long. Not many authors could have pulled off this novel and, while I do want to caution you before purchasing this novel to first borrow it from your local library or a friend, I also want to recommend this book to literature junkies and literary fiction fanatics. I for one will definitely be reading more by Donna Tartt and will be expecting greatness from her with a tinge of reduction in the extensive portraitures of randomness and chaotic thinking.
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BookDepository: The Goldfinch