These are scattered thoughts, not a review
- Overall, I liked it.
- I like books about art, so I was prone to like it. The artwork at the centre of the book by a little know artist, a painting I would have otherwise looked at and gone meh. But the characters in the book read so much significance into it, which is exactly what art does. It’s the details, the more you look at it, that you realize the thing is not the obvious thing but a spark something else (yeah, I’m being articulate here). But apart from that, how the book set up that one painting as a touchstone – or keystone as Theo calls it – speaks so much to the idea of the art object as fetish.
- The book is also a bildungsroman and I’m a sucker for that too. It’s been compared to Dickens (well, Great Expectations I guess), but I’m not a fan of Dickens – sacrilegiously, I don’t think I’ve read an entire Dickens novel ever although I’ve read the abridged versions as a kid so I feel like I have (and maybe I will remedy that). I thought it was more Cacther in the Rye in spirit, what with the precocious New York boys and all.
- That said, why does Donna Tartt seem to always have male protagonists? (oh wait, I realize the middle book doesn’t). I wasn’t a great fan of The Secret History. I hated all the characters in that book. The protagonist was tolerable but just about; it was never clear to me why he was so enamored of the others. Even the horrible thing they did was pretty obvious. There’s a better book about girls obsessed with their Latin teacher with a deep dark mystery that I read. Maybe because it has girls, and their feelings and motivations and characters are better drawn.
- People have said they didn’t like anyone in this book either, but I liked Theo (mostly) and even Boris and definitely Andy. In fact, I disliked Theo the most when he chose not to call Andy when he came to New York.
- There is a point at which, however, the book just gets to be too much. Like okay all literature from the 20th C onwards is bound to be miserable, but the rollercoaster that is Theo’s life just got to me at some point. Every time things seemed to be settling down, bam! another crisis. At one point, I couldn’t take it any longer and turned to Wikipedia for a plot summary, which at least tided me through one of the crises that pained me the most. After all that, the book came as close to a happy ending as a 21st C novel with literary pretensions will allow so I guess that’s some consolation.
- There seems to be debate about whether the book is literature or not. This is always a sticky question, but I guess if Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is, then why not this? Though, yes, as someone has pointed out, some of the metaphors (the moon one) for example are trite, and I did think that stream of consciousness parts could not hold a candle to the greats of that style – Woolf, Joyce, or even Allen Ginsberg.
- One reviewer on goodreads.com said that if it’s possible for a book to give one PSTD, then this one did it for her. I won’t say the book traumatized me, but it was hard going in parts, mainly because so much happens to the same person. The story and characters will, however, stay with me, so there’s that.