Book Reviews: February 2018

February was another slow reading month - just two books!

 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

When thirteen-year-old Theo Decker’s mother is killed in a shocking accident, he finds himself alone in the world and searching for a family. As he mourns his mother, he keeps her memories close through an obsession with a particular work of art. The older he gets, the more his life revolves around the dark side of art collecting until he has to face his choices head on.

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The Goldfinch is long. As in, almost 800 pages long. Could the same story have been told in about 500 pages? Yep. Am I mad about it? Nah. Usually, length for the sake of length irritates me in a novel, but not in this one. Tartt’s writing is a beauty to behold in many passages (see below) and her characters felt painfully real to me, so I forgave her the lack of brevity. 

Skilled as Tartt is, I couldn’t give this one a full 5 stars because some parts were redundant. Specifically all the parts about Theo doing drugs, both as a teen and an adult. It got a little old to read about him being drunk and high for the umpteenth time, though I thought she did a great job of tying Theo’s childhood trauma with his poor adult choices. I think that's the thing that really blew me away with this novel: everything Theo did or said revolved around one event that shaped his entire life. He was consumed by artwork without being crazy, although his tendency to toy with death did cause him problems in the end. 

Pulitzer level writing aside, my favorite parts of the book were adult Boris, Hobie's generosity, and young nerdy Andy. Anyone looking to get lost in something grand won't go wrong with The Goldfinch

Some lines that I marked while reading...

Page 93: “But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.” (Ugh. Beautiful.)

Page 395: “By contrast Hobie lived and wafted like some great sea mammal in his own mild atmosphere, the dark brown of tea stains and tobacco, where every clock in the house said something different and time didn’t actually correspond to the standard measure but instead meandered along at its own sedate tick-tock, obeying the pace of his antique-crowded back-water, far from the factory-built, epoxy-glued version of the world.”

Page 411: “after dragging Popchik around the block, where he darted to and fro and screamed in terror…” (Just a line about walking the dog that made me laugh out loud.)

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Published in 1929, A Room of One's Own argues that women need a fixed income and a place to be alone before they can truly express their creativity. 

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I picked this one up off my shelves because it’s short, just over 100 pages. I should’ve been able to get through it in one or two sittings, but it took me SIXTEEN DAYS to find the motivation to get through it. SIXTEEN!

I really don’t know why it took that long; I think I just wasn’t in the right mood for non-fiction. I could’ve also used a few more paragraph breaks, my eyes tend to glaze over when I see a paragraph that takes up an entire page. However, I liked Woolf’s writing and the points she made really put the timeline of feminism in perspective.

My favorite parts about this essay were when Woolf talked about the struggles of classic female authors  - Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Shakespeare's hypothetical sister. It's easy to think "I'm sure those women had a hard time writing!" without stopping to think about the times they lived in and how they'd just recently won the right to vote. Woolf scattered in plenty of details about women's daily lives for context, though I got the impression that the women she talked about were already fairly well off anyway. (Correct me if I'm wrong, history experts.)

If I ever find myself in the mood for feminist non-fiction in the future I'd probably re-rate this higher, but for now I have to be honest and say I just didn't totally love it. It read more like a quick historical anecdote to me than a call to feminist arms. But I guess that makes sense, since it's 90 years old. 

Rating: 3 of 5 stars