This is a gorgeous confusing poem of a book, but ultimately extremely rewarding if you invest the time and the energy. A knowledge of postcolonial theThis is a gorgeous confusing poem of a book, but ultimately extremely rewarding if you invest the time and the energy. A knowledge of postcolonial theory would definitely help, as Brodber is dealing with a lot of really interesting issues pertaining to race, religion, colonialism, sexuality, gender...really, its a feat that she addresses these issues so well in such a short text and with such eloquence. ...more
Ah, I really loved this book. It is the literary equivalent of a warm cup of tea, if slightly bitter when you get to the end of the cup. There are soAh, I really loved this book. It is the literary equivalent of a warm cup of tea, if slightly bitter when you get to the end of the cup. There are so many sentence gems - everything is poignant and beautifully described, particularly the most horrific parts. What most intrigued me is the timelessness of the narrative. It was very difficult to determine when this was going on, though there are hints throughout: the reference to Mel Gibson, Jane Fonda workout videos, Salman Rushdie. And in a more general sense, the characters, setting and themes feel timeless. For a contemporary novel it felt remarkably like a classic modernist work, like Evelyn Waugh or F Scott Fitzgerald. A lot of people take issue with the arrogance and pretentiousness of the characters, which is kind of the point, no? They are each fascinating and horrible in their own right - BUT, they are each so well crafted, and Tartt does a really good job at representing fully human characters settled neatly into a realistic grey area, that I found it hard not to empathize with each of them at different turns. I think that while their all-consuming passion for the classics might come across as pretentious to some, it was a more oblique and, frankly, a more interesting way of depicting the obsessiveness of that period of early adulthood. Particularly in college, when everything feels dynamic and fascinating but you're too drunk or high half the time to really commit and come to terms with the less idealized sides of what you study, or have committed to. I think she captured that period of life perfectly, in all its intensity and bittersweetness. My main critique is that here, and in The Goldfinch, as well, Tartt's female characters really play such a minor role and end up being props for the male protagonist's development into adulthood. This is not to say they are not interesting characters; Camillia fascinated me. But she felt more like a symbolic cipher than a fully developed woman with agency, and the male characters are undoubtedly better drawn.
The slow burn at the beginning is really captivating, moving from whimsical to uncanny at a good pace. I liked that the haunting took unique forms forThe slow burn at the beginning is really captivating, moving from whimsical to uncanny at a good pace. I liked that the haunting took unique forms for each of the family members, which isn't exactly an original take but I thought it was done mostly well here. Newman explores gendered tropes in a way that sometimes felt interesting, at other times verged on problematic or cliche. The men (well, one man, one boy) both adopt uber masculine patterns of behaviour - the boy lives an imaginary second-life as a soldier, and the husband/father becomes an aggressive and abusive patriarch. The women both fell into some version of the cliche hysterical woman: the Mother rebels against heteronormative family life (and she is constantly haunted by the possibility of abandoned queer desire, epitomized by her "witch" friend), and her daughter becomes anorexic in an attempt to deal with body dysmorphia after a boy breaks up with her. If the conclusion was more solid and clearly subverted these tropes, I would have enjoyed this a lot more. But often the message is muddled. Ultimately the conclusion left me unsatisfied. It was altogether too easy an ending considering the complex topics and relationships that were opened up....more