Tartt, Thirkell and Sigurdardottir

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown and Company, 2013) – There’s not much to say about The Goldfinch that hasn’t already been said, but I can tell you that it is a book full of ups and downs, highs (literally) and lows that completely entraps the reader with its mesmerizing, epic story. At nearly 800 pages, this novel maintains quite a slow pace yet the writing is so bewitching that I would categorize it as a ‘fast read’. It tells the story of Theo Decker who as a young boy becomes, through tragic circumstances, the caretaker of a Dutch masterpiece, The Goldfinch, painted by Carel Fabritius. We follow Theo through his adolescence and early adulthood as he struggles with creating a place for himself in the world and with his intense fear that he’ll be discovered with the painting. Memorable characters (especially his friend Boris) tantalize and distract, but, for me, this novel was always about the painting and about the human need to create and to appreciate beautiful art. I enjoyed this novel immensely, but I’m afraid I didn’t love it. However, I do believe that it is a story that will stay with me for years to come.

High Rising by Angela Thirkell (VMC, 1933) – And now for a novel that is about as far from The Goldfinch as you can get. I’ve only known about Angela Thirkell for a few years now; I’d never heard of her before several bloggers started posting about her books. I bought the nice, colorful VMC edition of High Rising last year, but only decided to read it after I finished The Goldfinch and needed a little palate cleanser. It is the first book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, of which there are 29. The main character in this book is Laura Morland, a widow with four sons who, to pay the bills, writes popular formulaic novels set in the fashion world. Her three oldest sons are off exploring the world and her youngest son, Tony, is at school. The novel takes place during Tony’s breaks at their country home in High Rising and we follow along with the (mis)adventures, romantic entanglements and merriment of their friends and neighbors. The humor is first-rate, self-deprecating and silly. The novel is dominated by really witty dialogue – there aren’t many descriptions of the countryside or of the interiors, but the characters are vibrantly drawn. I think I had a perpetual smile on my face the entire time I was reading this and laughed aloud frequently. It’s just pure fun. I will definitely be reading more books by Angela Thirkell.

I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Minotuar Books, 2014) – I seem to have developed a taste for supernatural mysteries. I loved Blood Harvest by S.J. Bolton and The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, both of which have a similar feel to this book. When I saw this available as an eGalley I couldn’t resist its description as a mixture of crime fiction and ghost story. The novel is set in Iceland and has a dual narrative. Half of the book follows a psychiatrist named Freyr who is investigating a woman’s suicide while coping with his continuing grief after his son disappeared several years earlier. The second storyline is set on an island where three friends are renovating an old house during the tourist off-season. All of the characters start experiencing eerie sightings of a young boy and hearing malevolent voices. At first the two narratives feel very different, but as the novel progresses the strands start to combine until the stories collide in a spectacular way. The fright factor is very high here – it is terrifying, heart pounding, nightmare inducing creepiness. I tried not to read it at night, but I wanted to know how it ended so badly that I invariably found myself sneaking chapters before bed. If you like being scared, this is a must-read; if you don’t like being scared, I’d stay far away from this cleverly written mystery. It will be released in the US on March 25. 

More about these novels:

The Goldfinch at dovegreyreader scribbles

The Goldfinch at Harriet Devine

High Rising at Pining for the West

High Rising at Desperate Reader

I Remember You at Savidge Reads

I Remember You at Farm Lane Books

A salute to Angela Thirkell in the NYT.

The Secret History + The Blush

secret history

The Secret History by Donna Tartt – I don’t know how to describe my experience of The Secret History. It is about an elite group of college students who primarily study Classics under a dynamic mentor named Julian. They have special status at their college and are seen by the other students as odd and mysterious. For reasons that are very logical to themselves (and, disturbingly, to the reader) they murder one of their members, Bunny, and the rest of the novel unravels the mystery of why he is murdered and explores the aftermath of their decision. I started out absolutely adoring this novel. The first half is a brilliant piece of atmospheric writing, placing the reader straight into beautiful and rural Vermont at a small, elite college with wealthy, eccentric and  intelligent students. But the second half…oh, brother. I hated it. I hated reading about their endless drunken binges, drug fests and rotten, selfish antics. I wished all of them had been murdered. I only suffered through the mess because of the hope that things would magically right themselves by the end. And there was redemption. The ending was unexpected yet beautiful and right. So, I had very strong feelings about this book and I can’t decide if I really think it is gorgeous or silly or a big mash of both, but it is worth reading.

The Blush by Elizabeth Taylor – The Blush is a collection of stories by Taylor, a much admired author among bloggers. I have tried to read several of Taylor’s novels and could not connect with them at all so I bought this volume hoping that her stories would be a better introduction to her writing. And they were. To me, her writing is cold and hard to embrace, but it is worth giving her prickly prose a shot because there is lots of humor, truth and spark in her characters and her writing. I like that her stories are all very different, focusing on different settings, classes, and time periods. This lady is harsh on her characters and spares no embarrassing detail of their lives. I cringed through quite a few of the stories because I just felt so sorry for the characters and I was uncomfortable for them. She really has no pity at times. My favorite story of the bunch is called ‘Poor Girl’ and is a ghost story, though an ambiguous one. It is quite sensual and impressively dark Victorianish – it somewhat reminded me of Sarah Waters. I’m glad I read The Blush because I no longer fear Elizabeth Taylor. In fact, I am currently reading At Mrs. Lippincote’s and think it is fantastic.

Have you read either of these books? Are there any authors that you can’t connect with?