Great writing, good story, decent characters and I suspect that it isn't the author's fault that I didn't love it. It wasn't that I disliked it, I jus...moreGreat writing, good story, decent characters and I suspect that it isn't the author's fault that I didn't love it. It wasn't that I disliked it, I just didn't care. I wasn't interested in the characters and the whole thing was so tedious to slog through.
Just not the kind of book for me, although I can appreciate the quality of writing. (less)
Loved it, despite the lack of variation on protagonist voices. I mean, who could go past a line describing a woman at the supermarket shuffling "past...moreLoved it, despite the lack of variation on protagonist voices. I mean, who could go past a line describing a woman at the supermarket shuffling "past in slippers that used to be pink and fluffy but now resemble dirty drowned kittens."(less)
As I get older I am getting more bitter. I didn't think that was possible but it is and I presume that by the time I'm dead they won't even need to cr...moreAs I get older I am getting more bitter. I didn't think that was possible but it is and I presume that by the time I'm dead they won't even need to cremate me because I'm just going to be a pile of coffee grounds sitting in my computer chair. Some people age well like fine wine, I'm just rotting before I hit the grave. That being said, I am however trying to try not get so much joy out of hating things. I'm not trying very hard. Okay fuck it, that isn't true, I'm not trying at all but sometimes I wish I was a sweeter person who got my kicks from joy rather than schadenfreude. When you're in your early 20s it's kind of trendy to pretend to be misanthropic and angst ridden but when you hit your 30s you just look like a sad sack loser who needs to start yoga or go on Prozac. In my children's karate class, their sansei teaches the new kids to learn a 3 step mantra on why doing warm up exercises is so important, "To get your blood PUMPING. To get your muscles LOOSE. To get your joints OILED." Well, that is what hatred does for my body, not exercise. Exercise just amplifies the bad homicidal feelings.
I wanted to smugly give this book a 1 or 2 star rating but lately I've really been enjoying the books i'm reading that they love to classify as "YA" (ie all the books that my mother banned me from reading when I was a teenager lest I read about periods and second bases that have nothing to do with softball.) I lost count of the amount of times my mum made dad march Judy Blume straight back to the school library and I'll be honest, I am waiting in desperate anticipation of my children's teen years so when I catch them reading taboo books I can be all Cool Mum and tell them how, back in my day, I wasn't allowed to read Goosebumps but kiddo, you can read whatever the hell you like. Which we all know will make them want to avoid books altogether because why do something that makes mum happy. So perhaps I should just beg them not to touch any of the books on my bookshelves because they're full of naughty, terrible things in the hopes they'll want to defy me. Which brings me back to being too similar to my own mum, even though I am merely being clever and my mother was simply mad keen on censorship and preserving my innocence.
I don't even know why I'd feel smug about smacking a 1 or 2 star rating on a book simply because it's tagged YA? Because secretly I feel like i'm better than that? Well, fuck it, I don't feel like that any longer. I have finally realised that writing good YA requires a certain amount of genius. To put just enough cussing and hints of sex but not so much that parents take to burning the books on the family barbecue (or was it just my parents that did that?). To depict romance without being sappy. To slip enough enough cool pop culture references in without sounding like the Groovy Uncle. Rowell did this all with Eleanor & Park and although it didn't make me cry, it did make my stomach hurt a bit. Probably 'cos instead of crying I repress my emotions by jamming them all down into my gut.
I read another review of Eleanor & Park where the reader felt like the romance wasn't believable and hey, I'm one of the most cynical people out there and it didn't bug me. Maybe it depends on your own personal history and whether you can relate. I happen to have had 'romances' that have been quite similar. My current (and forever love) was a bit of a dick when I met him; I think he secretly liked me and was just trying to be edgy by being sarcastic all the time but I just thought he was a bit of a jerk. I met him when I got a job at the shop he worked at. I worked on the counter where I sat with a comic book in front of my face because I was too socially inept to speak to anybody. Then he needed a flatmate because he broke up with his girlfriend (because he was secretly besotted with me, bless) so I moved in with him. Then one night as we sat smoking cigarettes and watching his stupidly small television, I looked across at him with his pencil tucked behind his hair and thought, oh that's cute. Then I noticed his nice little hands and his twinkly eyes and before I knew it, we're in the suburbs getting old and fat together.
One thing I didn't like about this book, cos there is always something, was the constant jumps of point of view. i'm not even bringing it up cos I wanna find fault because that's the way I usually roll. That shit was annoying. Eleanor. Park. Eleanor. Park. Every time I read a heading I was yanked up and out of the story like a fish on a hook. If I hadn't liked the story so much it would have been bad enough for me to quit reading.
But I liked everything else. I liked some of the things that other people hated. I didn't feel like the pop culture references were too heavy or awkward. Maybe they were but I was too interested in the story that I just didn't care? I kind of felt like Rowell set it in the 80s because it wouldn't have worked as well with a modern setting rather than because she wanted it to be all about the 80s, so there was enough woven in to kind of make the setting work.
I loved Park's parents and the way they all related to each other. I loved that there was enough of it so that they felt fully fleshed out and not just props but not too much that it detracted from E&P's own story. I loved the agony of Eleanor's family life. For me, it was necessary background. It explained her slight resistance and disbelief of Park's adoration. Financial hardship explained her odd clothes and enabled Park to ply her with tapes and comics. I felt like their family lives added so much meaning and depth to their characters and why they were the people that they were. I really loved Park's mum and dad. Really, really. I felt feelings.
I am quick to find things to hate in novels. I am terribly precious about who I spend my time with and when a book is bad, I can feel the minutes ticking down and my death approaching and then panic happens and the panic rouses up anger and then I throw the book across the room and dive onto goodreads to rant about its negatives. i hate spending a single second of my time on wasting my life. I didn't feel like that with this book. I just enjoyed reading it. I wasn't antsy for it to finish so I could start the next book on my list. I didn't skim sections. I liked all the elements.
I liked the slightly imbalanced relationship too. Park was so smitten with Eleanor whereas I felt like for Eleanor, Park happened to be the little bit of light in her dark world. Something sweet amongst all the salty. Not so imbalanced that it felt frustrating but just so much that it felt real. Uh, and finally, fuck I really just related to this story. I was Eleanor with an unhappy home life and a desperate need to escape. I was Eleanor at the dinner table at friends' houses watching them all be normal and supportive and communicative. I was Eleanor feeling fear when I walked into my bedroom to find my personal things gone through and a heavy silence in the house because I was such a disappointment. I was Eleanor ten years ago at the start of my current relationship; distant and difficult to deal with, my partner quietly supportive; there for me to run to and run from and eventually come back to.
And that's what we all kind of hoped yeah? (view spoiler)[That the three words on that postcard were what we wanted her to spit out the entire book. "I love you" and not "I'm gettin' married", or "I am lesbian". (hide spoiler)]
4 stars, 5 if I was a teenager.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
So how does one review a book that they love? It's easy to spew hate fuelled vitriol when a book rubs you the wrong way, it comes so naturally to me....moreSo how does one review a book that they love? It's easy to spew hate fuelled vitriol when a book rubs you the wrong way, it comes so naturally to me. But how to elaborate on, "I loved it, it was great."? For starters, a nice bouncy keyboard and a warmly lit room helps, a hot cup of tea, a pleasant demeanour, a full belly, a house free of children. Not that I write my scathing reviews in a dark dungeon with a glass of acid and bowls of gnawed chicken bones on my desk but it really does take extra effort for me to get in the zone required to write a pleasant review.
So I fucken loved this book guys. Can you even imagine being Tartt? The feeling of satisfaction when you see this massive world come together under your fingertips, blossoming on the screen in front of you. A zillion times more complex than a Sims game which is the closest I've ever come to creating a fictional world so it's all I've got to relate to. I mean, if you were Tartt, you'd go out to dinner with friends and listen to their inane drivel about project deadlines or the latest bakery serving gluten free cupcakes or god forbid - their slam poetry escapades all whilst knowing you have The Goldfinch inside of you. This came from inside her brain, mate. Nice one. We are all but ordinary basic creatures in comparison. Except for all the other amazing fucking writers out there but my intention is not to take the glory from Tartt.
I am not a big fan of tomes because so many have let me down but mostly because I have a shocking attention span. But also, Goodreads' yearly challenges have destroyed my life. I aim to read 50 books a year ordinarily and I am competitive by nature (but also extraordinarily lazy) but the thing is, you could read 50 slim poetry chapbooks and hit that goal but fail if you "only" had 5 800 page epics under your belt. I KNOW THIS but still I want to see Goodreads slap that little "challenge completed" banner on my challenge. So I get halfway through these massive novels and the longer it takes me to get through them, the more books Goodreads tells me I am behind and I panic and start skim reading and I know it's stupid but fuck I hate failing. Just so you know, I didn't skim any of this. well, maybe the last few pages but I'll get to that.
Is there anything better than swallowing a book whole (and/ or the book swallowing you whole, Jonah in the belly of the whale with his hands pressed against a pink glowing rib cage, a cavern, a world inside a world.) This book is that. I started reading it as an ebook but soon realised that I needed it in physical form, so I bought that too but as much as I love grappling with paper and spine, I reverted back to ebook so that I could read it with ease, everywhere and ever time I had a chance. It was so absorbing, high five for absorbing tomes.
It is a brilliant writer who can write about things that you were never interested in, and not only make you interested but make you fall in love with them. In this case, it was wood. Tartt's glorious descriptions had me smelling freshly polished chairs, my fingers pressing into the grooves of knobbled table legs, seeing the air heavy with floating sawdust.
I've always been fascinated with New York, and the people it contains and now even more so after Tartt dumped a hearty dollop of various types of NY living at my feet - a hearty dollop but not a complete meal, is it just me or was it a little lacking in detail? I wanted more street smells, street life, more depth of setting. Maybe I'm just greedy, although I also felt the same in the Vegas section - my favourite part of the book. There was sand, there was heat and one lot of neon lighting but where was Vegas? I guess Theo was rather isolated and if that was her intention, then she succeeded but I wanted more.
The lack of details in setting was made up for, for me, by the depth of the characters. Hobie, dear Hobie - my little Gepetto. All distractedly bushy hair and kindly, cherubic grandpa cheeks (perhaps not how Tartt described him, but how I see him, bless his little face). My heart cracked in half and bled out whenever Theo stomped on his feelings. Then there was Boris, brilliantly written Boris. I know Tartt wrote him as having a mostly Polish (?) accent that was mixed with Australian but all I could hear was Tony Toponi from An American Tail and the similarities didn't stop there - crazy alley rat Tony to sensible, impressionable Fieval. Some people reference Dickens and even Dostoyevsky when writing about The Goldfinch, I'm all about Disney film. I promise to always deliver reviews of such fine calibre. Less cussing, more Disney references?
And Theo, well I didn't always like him and not for the obvious reasons. Tartt makes him endearing, envokes empathy, brings in some loveable characters and either kills them off to cause Theo pain or keeps them around for Theo to fuck with. Manipulative (as novelists are), and it works. When you write a character's story from childhood through to adulthood, the reader develops tolerance and sympathy for when the character inevitably fucks up (or is fucked with). At face value I am a sarcastic and often callous bitch but if you'd been witness to my childhood, you'd perhaps take less offence and maybe even find my behaviour endearing or at the least, humorous rather than soul destroying and tiring. Theo finds family when family is lacking, something I always enjoy reading about. Is that what The Goldfinch is about? It's certainly not entirely (or hardly) about The Goldfinch, the painting. He was never holding onto a painting, he was holding onto his mother (right?). In turn, this book was never about the painting, it was about Theo's own personal journey. And despite him being a prat sometimes, I never really hated him. I understood him.
For me, books like this have their place. I wouldn't want every book I read to be as excessively descriptive or meandering and perhaps the very small space I've allowed for wordy tomes is just big enough for Tartt alone. After reading so many sharp, ruthlessly edited novels and short story collections, it's bliss to sink into a pillowy and luxurious tale like this. As much as I am baffled and a little defensive when I read that other people didn't like this book (for the very reasons I DO like it no less!), I do somewhat understand their reasoning. However, i cannot fathom how people might think this is clumsy, disjointed, poorly written? Long, wordy, overly descriptive perhaps but Tartt constructs a tight and well flowing story despite this. It's almost inarguable. If anything, the biggest criticism I can make is I was very resistant to the naff philosophical wank that the book wrapped up with which only brings me to wonder, it's all just fucken subjective isn't it.
At the very least, Tartt deserves respect and kudos for her work. I learned to crochet last year and formed a deep respect for those that can craft a blanket and make it look effortless - there's so much quiet skill required in making a single granny square perfectly, let alone an entire blanket. To not have a simple square look like it was wrestled into being, to tuck away the ends without wisps of yarn distracting the eye, then to join every single one of those square together to form a blanket without bumps or twisted joins. It requires genius. Tartt, in my opinion, has mastered that craft in story form. To not be conscious of her weaving her magic is awe inspiring. Before you know it, you're leaning back and exhaling and wondering how you went from reading about a little boy standing in a museum with his mother, to a dude who had been involved (albeit mostly unintentionally) in a racket involving stolen artwork, (view spoiler)[forged antique furniture and murder. (hide spoiler)]
Tartt even manages to write drugs and alcohol into her story without me balking, I read way too many drug addicts' memoirs in my early 20s and watched way too many episodes of Intervention to have much interest left in the self destruction of junkies (not to mention the more lacklustre, two dimensional addicts I knew in real life). Requiem for a Dream shocks you for the first 5 or 6 times, there on after it just becomes a chore. Thankfully Theo didn't have to end up double ending a dildo to pay for his habits but (view spoiler)[fucking over Hobie in order to pay for pills was more painful for me to read. Dear little kind, cherubic Hobie. (hide spoiler)] The things addicts do to continue living in their little self absorbed worlds. I think that's what I appreciated about Tartt's depiction of addiction, it wasn't particularly sensationalised. She managed to convey the sadness, the loneliness and pathetic nature of it. She writes drugs and alcohol well - I've been Theo and Boris. Tripping over my clothes and vomiting into swimming pools, taking acid in playgrounds, ranting whilst blackout drunk about my innermost feelings and beliefs. I could have done without it (both in life, and in this book) but I guess it added a dimension to the novel that was necessary for certain plot points.
As a reader, I feel like I earned this book having been a dedicated reader of both The Little Friend and The Secret History. I persisted with both books because I knew Tartt was a wordsmith genius and this is my reward. A verbose, fat tome full of emotion and growth and adventure. And although Theo, for me, wasn't as fascinating as the supporting characters - I've begun to realise that the main character doesn't always have to be the star. It's fine for them to just be the vessel that the story happens on. The supporting characters danced on Theo's back, the ocean buffeted him around, the rollocking trajectory of childhood through to adulthood. I gave this book four stars on finishing it, but have settled into believing it to be a solid 5 star read. Goodreads better implement a better rating system though because when she completes her fourth book in ten years time, I'm hoping it'll rate even higher. It might even kill me with the sheer force of its storytelling genius. What a wonderful way to die.
I wrote this review with children underfoot as it is school holidays here. Here are some of the things that I was interrupted with:
(S; 8 years old G; 4 years old)
S - to inform me he had eaten mouldy bread G - to complain that S had tied the fingers of her blown-up glove together (try and make sense of that one) S - to ask me to play chess with him G - asked whether I could remember her Cabbage Patch Kid's name (I couldn't remember, from here on in Cabbage Patch Kid will be referred to as CPK) G - to inform me that Santa had got her the wrong CPK as she wanted one with black hair, not blonde. I told her that Santa merely plucked her from a cabbage patch and had nothing to do with the hair colour. G didn't leave so I then told her that people's hair colours can change as they age and I was pretty sure that this time next year CPK was going to have black hair. G - swinging on the back of my chair G - to ask me to admire how her CPK was hugging her. G - to witness a running race between her and CPK G - a close inspection of an elastic band found on the floor G - to redress CPK after G removed the dress to closely inspect her navel. G - required me to enthusiastically declare my wonder at a (not so magic) card trick G and S - a discussion with both children about CPKs and how often they are taken in public.
I regret putting a sofa in the study behind my desk. I have provided a comfortable environment for my children to relax. Note: remove sofa and replace with cacti.
S - to ask about zombie apocalypse survival plans S - to tell me that he has put the new loaf of bread in the fridge to help prevent mould G - to tell me she really likes Adventure Time G - and also mermaids["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)