In anticipation of the upcoming Pulitzer Prize in Literature announcement, I decided to get down to business and take on Donna Tartt’s 700+ page The Goldfinch. I had been quite reluctant to read it for two main reasons.
Firstly, I noticed a lot of contradicting opinions on whether or not this book actually merits such a coveted prize. Granted, I have not followed book news for long enough to know how strongly people have objected or stood by books such as The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I enjoyed immensely, or A Visit From the Goon Squad, which was a not so calamitous win for me.
I heard and read such dichotomous opinions as, “The Goldfinch deserves this prize.” “This book comes nowhere close to the likes of The Good Lord Bird or The Lowlands!” Or, “why is this story about art so compelling to those reviewer types??” “Donna Tartt is an amazingly talented writer who should have won the Pulitzer already!” And on and on.
That last comment brings me to the second reason I wasn’t casting all aside to dig into her latest work: The Secret History. There is this (not so) quiet devoted followership to this uber deep characterization exercise called The Secret History, that just didn’t move my mountain. About five pages into this one I realized that I was going to have trouble, so I switched to audio. Often, audiobooks help me to get through (and enjoy!) the long or very detailed reads that I feel the pull to take on for whatever reason.
Oh boy. The book is read by Donna Tartt herself. Ever heard the old adage, “authors shouldn’t narrate their own audiobooks”? If you haven’t, commit it to memory right now. Just do it.
There are exceptions to this rule, such as Neil Gaiman and perhaps Jon Ronson, but generally, just don’t do it. Especially if you are paying for your listening pleasure. To put it nicely, Ms Tartt did not do her epic tale justice, in my humble but constantly audio-booking opinion.
Tis for all of this that I only now, almost one year after winning the literature prize of all literature prizes, have buckled down for 32 hours—Yes, I sure did listen to it—to learn all about the infamous Goldfinch.
And you know, it was actually pretty great.
The Goldfinch tells the life story of Theo Decker, beginning on the day he was suspended from school at the age of 13, and concluding in his late twenties. Think of all the stuff that you experienced between the ages of 13 and 27! Consider that, and you might be able to imagine the amount of learning, the shift in perspectives (paradigms even), the maturing, that change Theo through the pages.
While the depth of characterization is very detailed and intense, the scope of the story allows for this to happen without drawing out too many single events into that grating tedium that leaves the reader thinking, “oh would you just move on already!” The action in the story was plentiful, and did not suffer for the description that was consistently added. In fact, those added details built in a sort of anticipation that allowed for a page turning quality that is sometimes lacking in such massive works.
The writing also left me chuckling in many scenes. Particularly those which included Theo’s Russian friend, Boris. The rough-around-the-edges character brings much lightness and spontaneity to Theo’s life. He left me laughing most heartily in one scene where his 14 year old self comments in teenage fervor, “Hah, Bastard! Tell you what, if I thought my kid was a bastard, I would sure the fuck name him something else!” Just trust me, you need to hear Boris’ whole story almost as much as you need to hear Theo’s.
If you are planning on it taking it on, you may want to get on that, as the next Pulitzer winner will be announced in just two weeks, on April 20th.
Did you enjoy The Goldfinch as much as I did?
Which book do you think will win the next Pulitzer? Which do you hope will win?