A popular topic of discussion while I was at a writing course this summer was reviewing classic and/or prize-winning literature and how most of us felt unqualified to do so. Oh sure, it’s easy to review literature when you love it. When you don’t? Eek! How dare I say I didn’t like a novel that has won one of the most prestigous literature prizes for the English language? Who do I think I am? My inner voice can be quite insecure.
With those thoughts in my mind, I will endeavor to review The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I have never been a Donna Tartt fan. But I’ve previously blamed that on language as – for reasons too boring to go into – I read The Secret History in Dutch. Let me assure you, I did read The Goldfinch in English. Unfortunately, reading in my native language did not improve my view of the novel. (Perhaps I should have read it in German?)
Reading The Goldfinch is like watching a train wreck happen – in slow motion. What’s slower than slow motion because this novel creeped along at the pace of traffic in Istanbul on a Sunday afternoon? Unfortunately, I’ve never been one for rubbernecking at accidents. Everything and anything that could possibly go wrong in the narrator’s (Theo) life did. It was painful to watch. I know this is literature and a saga to boot – but couldn’t Theo have something go right in his life?
There is no doubt that the characters were well developed, although there were so many that I sometimes lost track of who’s who. My goodness does Theo know a lot of people! And some associates disappear for hundreds of pages before coming back. I had to flip back and forth a bit at times, although that’s probably my fault as I took freaking forever to read this book. Personally, I want Hobie to adopt me. I don’t know anything about antiques, but I’m willing to learn. I also loved Boris’s character. I wouldn’t trust him any further than I could throw him, but it was fun to watch the guy wiggle his way around. That said, I don’t think I’d trust Theo either.
Disappointedly, the novel fell apart in Amsterdam. The unfortunate part of knowing a foreign city intimately is that no one who is not native to the city can write about it well enough. I could write a list of mistakes, but only I care about that, so I won’t bore you. Suffice it to say that I had an incredibly hard time not throwing the book across the room. At least my husband found my snorting at the book amusing. (Although as a native Amsterdammer, he did sympathize with me. Or at least he pretended to – he’s not stupid.)
Nobody said I had to prize-winning literature, right? I’m giving the novel three stars as it is obviously well-written, the character development is unrivaled, and the story is unique.