Hello, happy Literary Saturday to you! I’m so glad you’re here. How about we discuss a new-ish piece of fiction and look at some happy, yummy photos, too? Okay? Cool.
Last night our famous little Oklahoma book club, Dinner Club With a Reading Problem, convened at hostess Kerri’s house to eat a delicious array of salads (lovely idea, Kerri!) and share our thoughts on Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. A couple of months ago Tracy’s husband Pete suggested we read it, and I am so glad he did. I gave it a five-star review on Goodreads, despite some character weariness there just past the halfway point (I’ll explain soon).
About the book, and my personal thoughts:
Published in 2013, Goldfinch is no longer a new release, but it is a Pulitzer prize winner, widespread bestseller, and totally worth your time. The writing is taut and elegant, descriptive no matter the scene or character (i.e., lots of details whether you want them or not), and the story is complex and interesting to say the least. Reading it opened my eyes to a whole segment of world culture that is foreign to me. It’s definitely unique among other novels and, though pleasurable, is a challenge to read.Challenge is good. I’m not alone in that opinion; take a glance at this article which claims that only 44% of readers who purchased Goldfinch online actually finished it. Wow! That’s less than half! (You’re welcome for summarizing that math for you. Excuse me while I dust off my shoulders.)
At around 800 pages it is a long book, certainly, and I agree it pushes the reader through a few dry spells; but it also boasts refreshing time leaps and luscious, sensual immersion into the moment over and over again. I am a sucker for well developed, believable, yet slightly fantasized characters, and this hefty book delivers many times over. A few of the main settings are almost as well developed as characters in their own right, particularly Hobie’s antique furniture shop and Manhattan apartment home. It grew to be so beautiful in my mind that now I almost feel like I have lived there in the past but had my memory gently smudged. That is writing well done.
I want to address the late-story character weariness only to warn you of it and encourage you to not let it keep you from finishing the book or enjoying it. I mean that. Surely other people feel differently than me about this, but just in case you and I are page-turning soul sisters, please know this going in: A guy named Boris is likely to really get on your nerves. He will make you almost crazy, and at some point while reading you will consciously hope (while gritting your teeth) that the actor who plays Boris in the movie is unreasonably good looking, so as to distract you from his decompository character. He’s really awful, okay? Boris will make you temporarily hate all Russian people, which is not your nature. And he will cause you to take new and more passionate stands against all kinds of drug use. Which will become time consuming and irrational on your part. Please, friend, read the book and don’t let Boris steal this pleasure from you. It’s worth it in the end.*
Okay, besides that, it’s all really great. Truly.
On that note, reports that the novel is being adapted into a screenplay is exciting. I like the actress playing the female lead, though knowing her identity ahead of reading did limit my imagination a little. That’s okay, but I’ll refrain from spilling all those beans in case you’d like to read the book blind before seeing the movie. Which of course is a policy I always strongly endorse.
I’d love to mention one more thing I deeply admired about Goldfinch. Written as a first person narrative with the main character being an adolescent boy growing eventually into an adult man, I find it fascinating that a female author could write so convincingly. That’s not meant to sound sexist; it’s just a genuine compliment to Tartt’s ability to shape her own voice. And the voice was age-appropriate, too, grasping believable details along the way. The things a teenager would notice, the teenager narrator noticed. The things an adult would notice, the adult narrator noticed. And so on. I loved it completely and wonder if Tartt writes this way naturally or has cracked a code somewhere along the way. It really amplified the pleasure of reading for me.
Okay, let’s hear from some of the other book club girls:
Melissa and I basically agreed on the book, as we are wont to do. She expressed a similar frustration with Boris and felt the same way I did about the main characters’ love story. Or lack thereof. She said that, although the book was laboriously long, she often found herself thinking about it while not reading. The characters became real to her, and isn’t this one of the best compliments a writer can receive?
DeLana, on the other hand, felt exactly the opposite way about Boris and Theo (Theo is the main character). She felt that of the two young men Boris exhibited the best attitude. They both made poor life decisions along the way and hurt plenty of people, but somehow (and I have to agree with this now that DeLana has illustrated her point) Boris the Very Unpleasant Russian was actually the sunnier of the two people, overall. Also, she points out, he managed to keep this disposition despite the fact that just like Theo he had lost his mother at a young age and lived with a neglectful and abusive father. So, attitude is everything? Maybe so. And big thanks to DeLana for shifting my view a little. Such is the beauty of book club!
Mysti came prepared with wonderful, insightful questions for the group, some of which we answered naturally. One of my favorite prompts was, “Would you read a 700 page sequel of this book, by this author?” LOL. By now you know that most of us found the novel to be long. What I have not fully described is how passionately most of the girls felt like it was just way too long. Like, to excess. DeLana even thought that most of the individual sentences were unreasonably long. On this I disagree, but to each her own, right? Another question Mysti posed was, “Why is art so important to the human soul?” How wonderful. I have been thinking about it a lot since we dismissed last night. The story, after all, is not only centered around a famous piece of art but is also framed by the world of art and furniture trade. Really fascinating stuff.
It’s worth mentioning here that of the nine women in our group lately only three of us finished the book to the last page. A few of the girls read a lot of the book. A couple of us explored the Cliff Notes. One of us (her name rhymes with Rexamie) is waiting for the movie. : )
And now for the salad-themed feast…
We enjoyed two different cold tortellini combinations, a crunchy oriental Ramen slaw, creamy macaroni salad, fresh broccoli salad with hard boiled eggs, marinated artichokes with capers and red onions and other wonderful things, made from scratch hummus, taco salad with French dressing and Doritos, a raw kale and mushroom mix, and several other fresh offerings. We feasted! Someone last night commented it was “summer on a plate,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Oh and several decadent desserts. Of course.
Doesn’t that all look amazing? As I’ve said many times before, we never leave book club events hungry. This coming Tuesday I’ll post the recipe for my salad contribution and maybe a few of the others if my friends are feeling generous. : )
Thanks again for visiting me here for Literary Saturday! I hope your weekend is beautiful and nourishing in every way. Please share something you’ve been reading lately. Or maybe a salad idea? You can never collect enough book titles or recipes, after all.
“—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel,
you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’
‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’
That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art.
It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.”