I entered into this thing with the purest of intentions. I wanted to read something so current that there would be at least three other people in the subway carriage holding the same book. The last time I remember that happening was when I read High Fidelity by Nick Hornby during college. Usually my reading centers on catching up with books I haven’t yet read and I fall farther into arrears with current releases. So I bought a copy of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. International bestseller, subject of rave reviews from The London Evening Standard to The Washington Post. I wasn’t so stupid as to buy it in hardback though. The size of it in paperback proved hurdle enough.
I do not begrudge reading long books. On the contrary, I look forward to getting swallowed up by them, cushioned by all those pages and the revelations they will bring, spat out at the other end a changed person.
Well, I’ve just finished it. And I feel spat out alright. Miss Tartt, that book did not need to be 771 pages long. You know it didn’t. You could have told that story–and told it better–in 385 pages. Exactly half. You needed to edit, kill your darlings, Miss Tartt. You are not above that, are you?
I cannot put a book down unfinished. It’s a bane of mine. But I’ve dropped The Goldfinch from my Citibike speeding through Chinatown–some kind soul caught up with me to give it back; I’ve watched it slide into a puddle of water, I’ve placed it in a bag next to an old printer cartridge leaking ink. All this and it doesn’t bear a scratch. I was stuck with it.
But, boy, am I mad about it. Do you think we don’t have lives to lead, Miss Tartt? Our own books to write? Are you under the impression that every sentence you squirt is so precious it must be shared with us? Did that period set in Vegas need to stretch hundreds of pages? Did we need to be present for every pill-popping, eye rolling, vodka-swilling second of your protagonist’s (can’t bear to use the word hero) teenage years? Where’s any evidence of the connection to this bloody painting in all these aimless chapters? Why did you turn the last quarter of the book into a badly written heist screenplay? What’s with the weird Harry Potter shadows? The protagonist is addressed as Potter by a friend because of his round tortoiseshell glasses, one of the villains is called Lucius Reeve (Lucius Malfoy?), the Hobie figure is like Hagrid but his expertise is in antiques not wizardry… These pathetic allusions to JK Rowling are where the magic begins and ends. There is no soaring prose, no scintillating dialogue. And as for those reviewers who employ the humdinger Dickensian to describe it, I respond by urging other book buyers not to have such great expectations.
What is the fuss about? I’d never read any Tartt before. She spent ten years on this. Don’t expect me to be here in a decade’s time, lady. I will be breezing through life oblivious to your latest output. If this experience hasn’t taken years off my life.
You should be ashamed of yourself. Not at the mediocrity–that threatens us all. But that your ego encouraged you to believe 771 pages of it was acceptable.
You are the January blues, the guest that overstays her welcome, the meal that keeps repeating, the daily news item that makes us roll our eyes (you are Justin Bieber!)
I thought the marathon was hard-going. But I got more out of that experience, learnt more about myself, understood more about the human race as a result. Your protagonist was a passive twit who waited, just like this poor reader, for things to happen and then went along for the ride. What a wild goldfinch chase you took me on! 70 pages from the finish line, what I desperately needed were those cheering New Yorkers from November 4th, and I wondered how could you possibly halt this episodic lumbering 16-wheeler you’d been steering. You must have wondered the same thing because it seems you just pressed the brakes and abandoned it.
Wish I could have done that.
My debut novel is available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.