Oakland, CA | Member Since 2012
I loved, loved , loved this book. I loved the plot, loved the characters, and loved her beautiful writing. This quote sums it up for me: “Donna Tartt is catnip for educated people who want to read entertaining but not difficult things about lofty topics and cosmopolitan people.” (Lydia Kiesling, The Rumpus, 11/30/13)
The goldfinch, it turns out, has been a symbol of Christ’s resurrection for hundreds of years. This may have started because of the thistle seeds that the goldfinch eats, which supposedly remind one of Christ’s crown of thorns. The painting, “Madonna of the Goldfinch” from 1506, exemplifies this Christian symbolism.
And even in ancient Egypt, this little bird was used to decorate coffins and remind the viewer that the soul is in the hands of God. This symbolism works perfectly in the book, The Goldfinch.
(Spoiler Alerts! )
The place where the symbolism becomes the most apparent is in Amsterdam. I love the way the final scenes there take place in the winter. Theo has hit bottom, he is about to commit suicide. It is cold, there is snow –traditional literary symbol for death. THEN it is Christmas day, and that is when he has his awakening, conversion, or rebirth. “ … after Amsterdam, which was really my Damascus, the way station and apogee of my conversion as I guess you’d call it, ….. “ (p. 768 ) A snowy Christmas: how perfect for a symbol of rebirth and regeneration.
That scene in Amsterdam is the main crisis in the book. For the rest of it, he pretty much tries to sum up the philosophy of life that he’s developed in going through all the horrors and yet the beauties of his life. This is a wonderful, emotionally moving, section. The painting of The Goldfinch has been symbolically representing how Theo’s soul has been in the hands of God – bumping from city to city and crisis to crisis - and now he’s wrestled with his demons and come out on the right side and can continue with his life in a better way. He’s doesn’t necessarily have a positive or happy outlook, BUT he is surviving, has reset his moral compass, and is ready to move on. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, he has had a conversion.
In addition to thinking about the Christian symbolism in the book, I am also trying to figure out if it could be considered a “picaresque” novel – the part about the bumping around from city to city like Don Quixote. The Goldfinch does take the main character, Theo Decker, to many locations on many strange adventures. First it’s NYC, then Las Vegas, then back to NYC, and finally to Amsterdam, and then other locations around the globe are tacked on at the end. So , that part qualifies as picaresque. However, in looking up the characteristics of that genre on Wikipedia, it is not quite so clear. I’m not sure if I have a point or not. Here’s a list to help make a decision:
1. Written in the 1st person as an autobiographical account.
Check this one as a YES. Theo tells his story and reflects on his life.
2. Main character is of low social class, gets by without and rarely deigns to hold a job. This is not so clear. Theo Decker is not of low social class, however, he is often very poor and he does many things that could qualify as “low class.” The picaresque hero is usually a rogue, BUT he is a lovable rogue and so doesn’t really seem like a “picaro.” I would put Theo Decker in this category, since he IS lovable, he does get by on his wits , and he DOES commit many roguish acts. He does have a job at some point, however, he commits some of his “roguish” acts on the job.
3. There is no plot. The story is told in a series of loosely connected adventures or episodes. This doesn’t work for “The Goldfinch. ” It has a plot, although, again, this is somewhat ambiguous since the plot does wander all over the globe. I guess, to me, the plot seems to be about Theo Decker growing up and finally coming to peace (of sorts) with his life and what has happened to him. This is a story of redemption, and that is the plot. So, I think this is NOT like a picaresque novel in the area of plot.
4. Little character development in the main character. Once a picaro, always a picaro. NOPE. Theo definitely has a conversion – a redemption. In fact, that is the major point or theme of the book, so this part doesn’t work as picaresque.
5. The picaro’s story is told with a plainness of language or realism. I would say this is true. The writing is lovely, but it is very easy to read, and it is realistic. There is no magical realism; there are no obscure passages. In fact, that is one of the things I loved about the book: it was a good story, easy to read, but still it contained many beautiful passages, literary references, figurative language, symbolism, and interesting thoughts on the nature of existence. So it was a great combo of the simple and the complex.
6. Satire might sometimes be a prominent element. At first I didn’t see it as a satire. However, I’m re- reading it, and now I can see the satirical elements: the social workers trying to help Theo; Dave, his therapist; the characters and the very geography of Las Vegas (the Playa, the empty houses, Xandra) and the snootiness superficiality of some in the art world. It is dark in parts and could be considered to be critical of life or segments of society. Although overall it doesn’t read like a satire, I’d say parts of it seem to be written in a satirical vein.
7. The behavior of a picaresque hero stops just short of criminality. Carefree or immoral rascality positions the picaresque hero as a sympathetic outsider, untouched by the false rules of society. This one seems true to me. Theo is thrown outside of society by the explosion in the beginning. He is always lovable, even when he commits his worst acts in the book. Although he seems to be taken in by others (his dad and Boris, mainly) he is always sympathetic, innocent, and lovable.
It will be hard for me to find a book that I like as much as The Goldfinch! Maybe I’ll try Donna Tartt’s other books…..
I thoroughly enjoyed Trunk Music and would have given it my highest rating EXCEPT that the ending seemed so contrived and phony that I had to knock it down just a little. It seemed just wrong to have Victoria Aliso blurt out as she died to, “… save my daughter.” What daughter? That’s the first we hear of it. And really? Her daughter turns out to be Layla, the Las Vegas dancer that Victoria’s HUSBAND is having an affair with? As if that weren’t enough, THEN Bosch and Eleanor run across Layla when they leave L.A. and Vegas and begin their honeymoon in Hawaii on the very last page. That coincidence seems just way too contrived. If there had been a plot of some dimension about Victoria, Layla, and their histories, then fine. However, to just throw these two facts in at the very end does NOT work to make the book and the plot seem believable.
Other than that, I found the book very readable and compelling, as with most of the Harry Bosch books. I’ll keep on reading about Harry Bosch. I wondered about the title "Trunk Music," and found what it means: ”...a wise guy saying outta Chicago.. when they whack some poor slob they say, “Oh, Tony Don't worry about Tony. He’s trunk music now. You won’t see him no more. “
Wow! I think Scientology has to be one of the most messed up, horrible organizations I've ever heard of. I won't call it a religion; that would be a sham. The book was fascinating in that it opened my eyes to the reality and the inner workings of Scientology. At the same time, it was pretty boring in its details and the reality which seemed to go on and on. I've heard some bad things about Scientology, BUT now my eyes have been opened to the extent of the rottenness.
As I was reading about the constant "auditing" (questioning sessions with an e-meter designed to elicit a certain result from the person being audited) and "sec-checks"(confessional given on an e-meter) , it made me think of North Korea in Orphan Master's Son! Seriously, that is how BAD it was. Well, they didn't hook the person up to a pain machine, BUT they did use constant belittling, questioning, humiliating, separation, isolation, and on and on to elicit the response they wanted. I also feel like this girl's parents were partly to blame for allowing her to be taken from them and to be separated from them and sucked into this horror. Of course, she was/is from a 3rd generation Scientology family, so they were ALL brainwashed, I guess.
The book talks about how the celebrity Scientologists are treated differently, and the world never sees that horrible stuff that goes on in the background. The hypocrisy of Scientology is stunning in its breadth and depth.
I've got to give this girl credit for getting out and exposing all this to the world.
Yes! With this #3 book in the Harry Hole series, Jo Nesbo has reached his stride and has written a tense and exciting thriller/crime novel. I particularly liked this book because the reader gets to see how Harry Hole meets Raquel (the woman he is so in love with in later books) and find out Raquel's "interesting" background. Having started with some of the later Harry Hole books, I was disappointed when I went back to the beginning with the #1 and #2 books (The Bat and The Cockroaches), but having enjoyed this book so much, I'm now ready to continue on to #4, Nemesis.
While the writing was often beautiful, this book fell flat, in my opinion. I couldn’t care very much about the main character. Perhaps I did in the beginning, but she and her story became less interesting to me as the book went along. Perhaps it’s because I felt the author was trying to make her story TOO much about the recent history of Zimbabwe and not enough of a novel. The characters all became archetypes of the various problems that immigrants face. First, there was the harsh life in Africa, then there were the harsh realities of trying to fit in to American life, and finally there came the realization that in many ways immigrants can never fit in to the new country, but they can never go home, either.
I thought the first half of the book was more compelling. In the middle there was a section that was told in the first person plural, like the book about Japanese picture brides, The Buddha in the Attic. That approach is really unsuccessful, in my opinion. It removes the reader from the action, and just seems preachy or false.
I’m sure that one is supposed to feel pity for the main character and sympathize with her, and I do feel sad about all the harsh circumstances. Somehow, other books with similar situations have managed to pull me in more than this one, however.
Sally Vickers used to be a psychoanalyst, and her past profession lends a depth to her characters, and an interesting air to her books.
She usually has interesting references to some cultural aspect as well. In The Other Side of You it was painting. In this book, the references to Greek mythology were interesting because they were symbolic of the situations in the book and of life in general. The story of Theseus and the Minotaur was one example. When Agnés finally confesses what she had done as a young girl, her friend Alain says, “The minotaur is dead!” I thought that was great, but then I love symbolism. Agnés’ secret had been trapped like the evil Minotaur, and now it was released - rendered powerless. Her life had expanded and healed a lot already, but now she was truly free.
I found the writing good, the cultural and psychoanalytic aspects interesting, but overall the story was a bit underwhelming. I enjoyed The Other Side of You much more.
I'm glad I read it. I finished as I arrived in Barcelona, so that made it really fun since the book has so much to do with that city. Now I HAVE to see the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar! As for the book itself: good on the history of the city, but I have to say that it was a potboiler and extremely overdone. At first I thought it seemed a little like Ken Follett in Pillars of the Earth, but really I think Ken Follett was a better writer. There are just too many heaving bosoms, too many characters who are extremely good or extremely evil, OR too many characters who could also change on a dime from one to the other.
This was a beautifully written book, and I enjoyed the story. The author’s keen insights into issues of immigration and race and what it means to be black in America AND in Africa were really interesting. It was particularly interesting to read about Nigeria from the viewpoint of some very well educated people. The main problem I had with the book is that it was too didactic. The author was critical of whites, critical of blacks - Nigerians, and Americans. That’s ok, and a lot of it was interesting, BUT it just went on too long. All of the preaching bogged the book down. Much of it could have been edited out, and the powerful main points would still have had as much or more impact.
This #2 book in the Harry Hole series was just recently translated into English. As with the 1st book in the series, The Bat, I think the reason they weren’t translated before is because neither #1 or #2 are as good as the later books written by Jo Nesbo. I started with The Snowman and was hooked! I had to wait for #1 and #2, and I hope now that I’m done with those two, the series will get better. That’s what the reviews seem to tell me. The Redbreast, #3, has been around for a while; I’ll move on to that one.
I enjoyed reading The Invention of Wings for two reasons. First, it was a good story. Second, when I realized it was based on the true story of the Grimke sisters, I appreciated it even more. As real characters, the Grimke sisters in this book were fascinating to me because they gave me a way to imagine how two women of the early 1800’s in Charleston could become such rebels! They became abolitionists, which was radical enough, but they also were some of the very early feminists. That part was fascinating to me. I liked the structure of the book: the way it went back and forth between the point of view of Sarah, one of the Grimke sisters, and then the point of view of one of the slaves, Hetty. I thought the writing was serviceable, but it was more the story and the history that stood out in my mind.
I wanted to read this book because it brings together two of Michael Connelly’s best main characters from two different series, Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller. It was enjoyable in a crime fiction kind of way, but I didn’t think it was as enjoyable as either The Lincoln Lawyer (with Mickey Haller), or most of the Harry Bosch novels I’ve read. Also, I thought it seemed a little too forced to have those two characters end up finding that they are half brothers. The origin of the title, The Brass Verdict is interesting: it simply means “street justice,” and it is how the bad guy in this book ends up getting his due in a twist of fate at the end of the trial .
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