Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Due to tropical storm Arthur I spent two full days reading Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch between carrying buckets of water to flush toilets and lighting candles.

A good day to be indoors with a good book.

 It has been given a Pulitzer Prize for fiction so I was fully ready to dive into the 700 plus pages. As I got into the story I could feel my impatience level rising. And I didn't want to feel impatient. I love a book that keeps me from doing stuff that I should be doing. I use it as a reward for getting some chore or other completed. 

This wasn't how I was feeling with this book. I got caught up in the story of the protagonist Theo Decker wanting to find out how he makes out. Yet as I continued to read I began to feel bogged down.
There seemed to be endless passages of description.  I wanted them out of my way.

I stopped reading at one point to chat with my husband who is a reader himself about what I was feeling. He described feeling the same way about an Elizabeth George book I suggested he read. He didn't finish it and his comment was "I have stuff to do."  I thought about that statement a lot as I worked my way through the Goldfinch feeling guilty that I wasn't appreciating a Pulitzer Prize worthy novel. And I certainly can read while ignoring lots of "stuff I have to do." 

To be completely honest at about the halfway point I started skipping large chunks of descriptive passages. I scanned until I came to a part where I could follow the characters as they "did stuff". But I felt guilty as I did it hoping no one saw me. I even wondered if I would confess to anyone else who has read it that I did this. But as you can read I decided I would tell everyone.

I did start to wonder if I am in need of a period of rest from the deep novels. And then I wondered if it was the fact that I was reading it on my Kindle? I skipped through Barbara Kingsolver's  Flight Behaviour that I have on my Kindle and I have always read every word of her books. But then I found The Interestings a slog and it was in book form. I read the Luminaries on my Kindle and read all of it. Maybe that wasn't the problem.

I decided to look look for reviews of the Goldfinch and found two. One in favour and one against. I felt less guilty about my giving up on reading every word when I read the one against. Then I felt like a lazy reader when I read the review in favour. 

AGAINST:  just a bit from this one

"I don't know what I was expecting when, with some excitement, I picked up The Goldfinch, but a Harry Potter tribute novel was definitely not it . And I admit that by this point, close to the end of a monotonous 800-page novel, I was truly perplexed. Nothing wrong, I suppose, with a Harry Potter homage, but it's hard for an adult reader to be gripped by a tale with no real subtext and peopled entirely by Goodies and Baddies.But maybe none of this would matter much if the writing itself were sharp and pacy, light on its feet. Unfortunately it's leaden, bereft of any attitude or attack, vision or edge. How on earth could a novelist who once treated us to such a tautly sustained suspense-fest have forgotten that one of fiction's most vital tools is the edit, the cut, the authorial nerve to be in charge and not have to tell the reader absolutely bloody everything?" Julie Myerson, The Observer

FOR: just a bit from this one
"Plot and character and fine prose can take you far – but a novel this good makes you want to go even further. The last few pages of the novel take all the serious, big, complicated ideas beneath the surface and hold them up to the light. Not for Tartt the kind of clever riffs, halfway between standup comedy and op-ed columns, which are too commonly found in contemporary fiction. Instead, when plot comes to an end, she leads us to a place just beyond it – a place of meaning, or, as she refers to it, "a rainbow edge … where all art exists, and all magic. And … all love." Kamilia Shamsie, The Guardian
So where does that leave me? Still thinking about the characters 
( a good sign). Not caring much about the descriptive passages 
( not a good sign).

I gauge a book's true effect on me (even if I have skipped chunks of text) when I remember it months after I have finished it. Maybe in time I will come to appreciate the book more. 

I am going to switch my reading genre to more non fiction for a bit to clear the head and maybe go back and read a few of the descriptive bits I skipped. 


  1. I agree with you . This book went on forever. I put it down a couple of times but because of the great reviews thought I'd better finish it. Had the same feeling as you after finishing it. In fact it's now in the storage room as the bookcase is premium space.
    On the weather front I hope for calm days ahead.

  2. Thanks for the weather and for agreeing with me about the book! Not so guilty now.

  3. Did you hear an interview or commentary the other day on the radio which was comparing some of these long novels to reality tv shows. I was not paying close attention, it may have been when I was waking up, but I believe the point was that reality TV has changed our taste, expectations for books. We want all the gritty details like we get through reality TV. Maybe. Like I said, I was semi-conscious.

  4. interesting. I never watch reality tv It irritates me too so maybe I am a cranky person by nature. Mostly impatient to get to a solution or reckoning!

  5. A friend of mine took this book on a 3 week vacation to Brazil and loved it. It became a running joke among her friends because she was going on about it so much. I think with a book like this we have to be interested enough to be willing to give it our time. The book has to earn 800 pages of time, and this one didn't earn yours.

    1. I find it wonderful how a book can be so different from one reader to another.

  6. I love this post because I just finished the book this week in fact and I loved it!!

    But this is what makes the world go round right? In fact this is the first fiction in a while that I enjoyed. I had to stop fiction for a bit bc I just wasn't caring about the characters for some reason and was reading non fiction but this has pulled me back into fiction. But then again I felt like that about the Corrections - I just couldn't finish it...But then again I adore dutch painting and love the classic novel arc of lost kid making their way in the world...

    1. I think I am where you were, needing some non fiction for relief. I started I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as I missed reading it?? It is just what the doctor ordered for me right now.