This has been a year of long books for me. Only three of them, but each in the 700-800 page category. I’ve finished two and put the third on hold. I can’t decide whether to abandon it or stick with it. I’d better make up my mind, because pretty soon I will have forgotten everything I’ve already read and be forced to start over.
One of these books is THE GOLDFINCH, by Donna Tartt. You’d have to be living on another planet not to have heard of it. After I finished it, I wanted to see what the reviewers had said, and I came across Stephen King’s review in the New York Times. He started with a quote from Jack Beatty’s review of James Michener’s CHESAPEAKE, which was 865 pages: “’My best advice is don’t read it; my second best is don’t drop it on your foot.’” King goes on to say, “In this hurry-scurry age, big books are viewed with suspicion, and sometimes disdain.” (He should know; he’s written a few himself.) King’s actual review of THE GOLDFINCH was actually quite favorable.
I’ll come back to THE GOLDFINCH in a minute, but I want to start with THE LUMINARIES, by Eleanor Catton, a young author from New Zealand. I wanted to love this book, because everything I’d read about it was full of praise. “Thrilling,” “brilliant,” and “masterful” were just a few of the adjectives used to describe it. I made it to p. 86, and that’s where my bookmark rests today (I got the book for Christmas). I’m not ready to give up on it, but obviously the characters and their stories didn’t draw me as quickly as I would have liked.
Last summer I started reading ELIZABETH I, by Margaret George. I love the Tudor period, and the author was appearing at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers annual conference (Colorado Gold). By the time the conference rolled around, I’d read about a third of it, and afterward I decided not to finish it. Recently I began doing some research related to the Tudors and decided to give it another go. The book is a fictional account of the latter part of Elizabeth I’s reign, and deals primarily with the Essex affair. The story is told mainly from Elizabeth’s point of view, but Lettice Knollys, the Earl of Essex’s mother, narrates sections of it as well. Brilliant idea, because that gives us a different perspective, a way to see the queen through her hated rival’s eyes. Lettice married Elizabeth’s true love, Robert Dudley (after she herself decided against marrying him), and was subsequently banned from court, although Elizabeth and Dudley, who became the Earl of Leceister, remained lifelong friends. I thought the story put us right into Elizabeth’s mind and heart in a truly authentic way. And Ms. George included a great list of resources in her Author’s Note. I’m so glad I finished it!
Now back to THE GOLDFINCH. The catalyst for the story is an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, in which Theo Decker’s mother is killed (this is on the jacket flap, so I don’t feel I’m giving anything away). He’s twelve when this occurs and 27 at the end of the book. The story is about the aftermath of the explosion and what happens to Theo. At the urging of a dying man, he carries a very small painting from the museum, “The Goldfinch,” which haunts him throughout the story. Unforgettable characters abound in this book. Theo, his Ukrainian friend Boris, whom he meets in Vegas when they’re both living with their fathers, Hobie, an eccentric old man who lives in the Village and seems like the ideal father figure for Theo. And Theo’s mother, always hovering out of reach. He’s never allowed to grieve properly for her. There were sections of this novel that were so painfully real to me. I had such empathy for Theo, and I want to re-read sections of the book so that I can figure out how Donna Tartt, the author, achieved that.
What longer books have you read and enjoyed? Have you abandoned any?