Last week, author Donna Tartt won the Pulitzer Prize in the fiction category for her gripping novel, “The Goldfinch.” As it happens, also last week, I finished reading “The Goldfinch” for my book-optional book club, which was a massive undertaking considering it’s 784 pages (2095 on my iPad!) and in those 784 pages not much good happens. However, despite its density and its darkness, there is a light that makes it shine.
The reasons Tartt won the coveted award are myriad, such as her descriptive writing style and her tender grasp of the human spirit. “The Goldfinch,” only the third book of her career, is as much of a masterpiece as is the painting that lives at the heart of the story.
Stephen King’s review in the New York Times captures the essence of the book better than I ever could:
“’The Goldfinch’ is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind. I read it with that mixture of terror and excitement I feel watching a pitcher carry a no-hitter into the late innings. You keep waiting for the wheels to fall off, but in the case of ‘The Goldfinch,’ they never do.”
It can’t be sugar coated. Even with her remarkable writing, I found the book a little hard to read at times, due to its darkness. However, I liken it to “Les Misérables,” in the way that you will frequently ask yourself, “Oh dear God, is this guy ever gonna catch a break?, yet, amidst the tragedy there is beauty, and amidst the darkness, there is light. That beauty and light manifest themselves in particular characters, namely Hobie, Pippa, Mrs. Barbour, a dog named Popper, and even in the unseemly Boris.
If you are a fan of fiction, of words woven together to create an intricate, delicate landscape of pain and plight, then don’t let the length scare you off. “The Goldfinch” storyline, with its low lows and manic highs (there is a lot of getting high that’s for sure) will not disappoint. I have re-read several chapters in the book, including the first and the last, each time finding new nuance, falling even more deeply in love with the book.
Here are a few of my favorite excerpts to give you a glimpse at her wordsmithing genius:
“As it was, she died when I was a kid; and though everything that’s happened to me since then is thoroughly my own fault, still when I lost her I lost sight of any landmark that might have led me someplace happier, to some more populated or congenial life. Her death the dividing mark: Before and After. 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. Everything came alive in her company; she cast a charmed theatrical light about her so that to see anything through her eyes was to see it in brighter colors than ordinary.”
“By contrast Hobie lived and wafted like some great sea mammal in his own mild atmosphere, the dark brown of tea stains and tobacco, where every clock in the house said something different and time didn’t actually correspond to the standard measure but instead meandered along at its own sedate tick-tock, obeying the pace of his antique-crowded backwater, far from the factory-built, epoxy-glued version of the world.”
Beautiful, right? Now go on, give it a try. And if you’ve already read it, let me know what you thought of it.