Thursday, March 10, 2016

Book Review

The other day I purchased a book called The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. I did so after becoming aware of the storm it had set off between the general society of readers (the book has been wildly popular and won the Pulitzer Prize) and the 'guardians of true literature', as represented by those literary critics associated with The NY Times Book Review, the Paris Review, and other august and unimpeachable sources. Popular reviews received the novel with enthusiastic admiration, calling it a rare literary gem in an otherwise drab and redundant market - something that comes along only once in a very long while. The folks in the ivory towers said it was inept, embarrassing and juvenile.


Naturally, having been a literature major at university, I wanted to see for myself.

And so far, though only 100 pages into a 700 page story, I can say this much: I find the prose to be more than competent - in fact, often startling in its excellence, the sort of thing that inspires reluctant envy in wannabe writers. This author has brought a sharp intelligence to her narrative without being intellectually intrusive, and without disturbing the fabric and atmosphere of the story into which she has placed us. It does seem, as some reviews have noted, Dickensian in its completeness, in the fabrication of a world that seems, as long as we are reading, and even when we have left off reading, as real as the world we live in. Tartt has addressed real events, such as the death of a loved one, with an empathetic exactitude that is almost painful,  bringing to us in ringing words what we ourselves have felt but been unable to express. Most importantly, perhaps, Tartt has written a story, something that brings us along, something that we take part in as it unfolds; and this, in my view, is where writing becomes literature. One cannot help but feel, sometimes, that the 'literary establishment' would just as soon remove the story from the work of fiction - how embarrassing, after all, to tell something so common as a story about common people. Thank heavens Ms. Tartt's book is not 'literary' in this sense!

And so, based on 100 pages, my reaction is extremely positive. And I suppose I'll have more to say 600 pages from now.

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