I finished reading The Goldfinch last week and, in short, I loved it.
Like pretty much everyone else, I absolutely loved her 1992 novel, The Secret History: the compelling characters, the creation of a world, the suspenseful and esoteric plot. I loved it all. It made me want to go back to college at some small, snooty New England place and study Ancient Greek, drink whiskey, and smoke cigarettes. Sigh. At least I can still do one of the three.
As an aside, since reading The Secret History several years ago, I’ve spent ages looking for other campus novels that could stand up to it. Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep didn’t quite fit what I was looking for, for example, even though I enjoyed it. Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding was (completely different from The Secret History but) turned out to be equally absorbing and delightful and has become a new favorite.
I started Tartt’s second novel, The Little Friend, a few years ago but for whatever reason abandoned it pretty quickly. As I look up the publication date, 2002, it occurs to me that it came around during a time when I wasn’t really able to get much leisure reading done. (Grad school was rough, man. Somebody make me a Twibbon.) I’ve often thought about returning to The Little Friend, but it just hasn’t happened. Yet, I guess. (Have any of you read it? Thoughts?)
As soon as I heard about The Goldfinch, though, I jumped on it. I started the book as I like to begin most novels (and films): knowing absolutely nothing about the plot or characters. An almost blank slate. This is my favorite way to begin. Jump into the world of the novel and let yourself disappear into it with no preconceptions or expectations.
And that is also sort of my excuse for being a terrible book reviewer. Honestly, I never write book reviews (and almost never read them) and this is one of the reasons why — I just don’t want to say much to you about the plot or characters here, so at least it won’t be me who robs you of the blank-slate experience.
So. Don’t read the passage below unless you’ve already read The Goldfinch and/or don’t plan to:
Just know that as I read the novel, I fell in love all over again with Tartt’s emotionally evocative, finely wrought prose. The above passage is just one of many that struck me so much while reading that I was forced to go back and re-read and turn it over in my mind again (and again). I think her style has matured and deepened since The Secret History in such a way that reading her prose is just as satisfying a stylistic treat as it is an engaging experience with plot and character. She’s able to sink deep into the setting, too, but in a way that never becomes tiresomely naturalistic. The cities of New York and Las Vegas come to life crisply in The Goldfinch; Tartt brings out elements I haven’t seen personally but that feel deceptively familiar.
I’m sure that this novel, like The Secret History before it, will be one I reread regularly. Donna Tartt has a way of creating worlds where I want to spend more time.