October’s top Read was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
Her new book, The Goldfinch, is her most ambitious undertaking. “The process was different in that it was three places—Park Avenue, Las Vegas, and Amsterdam—that dictated the story, and it takes place over a much longer span of time,” Tartt says. The Goldfinch follows 14-year-old Theo Decker as he oscillates between high society and the seedy underbelly of the antiques and art world’s black market.
In the novel Theo takes possession of the painting The Goldfinch after a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art kills his mother and sets his life on a traumatic course. Essentially it’s a coming of age story, but wonderfully executed.
She credits 19th-century novels with teaching her how to write, and she lists Dickens, Stevenson, Conrad, Wodehouse, and Nabokov among her favourite authors. Her literary influencers shine throughout the book. I was constantly delighted by the rounded characters, the immersive nature of the action and the general satisfying flavour of the read.
The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014. As usual, I’m stumbling around in the Backlist Territory, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading this novel.
At this point in the year, the novel will definitely feature in my Top Five of 2022.
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt. A magnificent novel. A literary thriller, involving the theft of a 17th century Dutch masterpiece, the deep friendship of two (semi)orphaned boys, Theo and Boris, the transition to adulthood and a satisfying ending. Not to be missed.
Shipwrecks – Akira Yoshimura. A short, spare novel about the harsh life of a community of Japanese fisher folk during the medieval period. They live on the edge of starvation and so take whatever bounty the sea and O-fune-sama a folkloric female deity, might send them i.e. wrecked merchant ships. They take certain practical measures to assist the process. Reading the Introduction by David Mitchell is essential. He describes the novel as ‘austere’, and it is. Nonetheless, recommended as a slice out of a very different type of life.
The Fire Portrait – Barbara Mutch. Francesstruggles in early life to pursue a career as an artist, against familial and social disapproval; after several romantic disappointments, she settles for a marriage of convenience, marries Julian, who is a shy school teacher and 15 years her senior. Her married life starts with a move to a small, remote Karoo town. At this point the novel gains more depth, and describes the complexities and nuances of South African life in the 1940s, the lingering aftermath of the Boer War, the Afrikaner Nazi sympathizers, the birth of the Nationalist Party and apartheid. The ending is surprisingly powerful and complex. Initially an easy read, but progressively more demanding. Recommended
The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown – Vaseem Khan. A re-read, but still vastly enjoyable, maybe because one of the characters is a baby elephant? An old-school whodunnit, set in Bombay, filled with charming and truly villainous characters, no shades of grey here. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Island on the Edge of the World – Deborah Rodriguez. The Haitian setting is very much part of the story : a vibrant, colourful, chaotic, destroyed, disaster-ridden island. Four women in search of a missing baby. Dishonest pastor and adoption agency, Voodou priestess, American psychic, – hold on to your hats! My first Haitian based read …. Interesting to say the least, and accustomed to Third World living conditions as I am, along the way, I still exclaimed: OMG!
What’s Left of Me is Yours – Stephanie Scott. Debut love story/crime set in modern-day Tokyo, inspired by a true crime. A young woman’s search for the truth about her mother’s life, and her murder. Impeccably researched, well written but the characters did not speak to me. If you enjoy Japanese stories, this book is for you.