Reading Down the House in May


God, it’s long. And has a heft to it (an in-joke if you make it past page 550) at over 700 pages.

I varied between loving it and hating it. It just went on and on. Get to the point already!

It’s like there are four books. No really, it felt like four different, well-written stories. Just that they are different parts of one person’s life and it is one novel. Just a bloody long one.

I was fascinated by the first “book” – how a terrorist attack affects a young boy – when it moved to another story. I gave up. I didn’t want another story about this boy. So put the book down. A month or so later I gave it another go. And loved the second story. My favourite character, Boris the Russian boy, is introduced here. Then it moved to another story/book. So gave up again for a few weeks until yet again I gave it another go. This story I didn’t enjoy as much. It could have done with some serious editing. Too much mediation on drug use. Have to admit I skimmed through this bit. I don’t normally do this. If I like a book, I read it. If I have to skim, it means I’m not enjoying I and life is too short and books too plentiful to waste on a book I am not enjoying. But then, this book is well-written and I did like the characters and the stories. And it was kind of like the investment Rolls Royce made into jet engines. So much time (money in the case of RR) that I couldn’t give up. I had to keep going.

And then Boris returned. Yeah! He adds action. The novel came alive again.

So generally I’m not one for long, long novels. I think the publishers have just either been cheapskates by not employing an editor or the editor is too gutless to tell the author his book needs editing. So many US best sellers seem to be massive epics.

Tartt’s writing appears effortless (maybe that’s why they didn’t edit it), it is also very cinematic – you can see all the action taking place on the big screen.

But, God, the main character, the narrator, gave me the shits, especially in The Netherlands.

In complete contrast is the novella, The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey. This little book has illustrations largely compiled from old pictures and advertisements. Like many, I loved Silvey’s Jasper Jones. The Amber Amulet is a sweet tale but it is difficult to see if it too does the crossover of young adult to adult fiction. The illustrations and the central character may make it appeal to young readers. But the lyrical quality and the deep wistfulness of the tale and the imitation vintage book cover and illustrations may not. But perhaps there are sensitive 12 year olds who will “get” the book.

I cheated and read this today – the first of June. Which is also when I finished The Goldfinch, but am counting these in May’s reading, otherwise I wouldn’t have read a book in May and my sense of identity can’t admit to that.

If I were given the choice and was only able to read one of these books it would be The Amber Amulet, not because it is shorter (though that too was a nice counterpoint to The Goldfinch), but because I love the tone of wistfulness and hopefulness. I loved the little boy trying to keep calmness and peace, above all good, in his street, with the hint that his motivation comes from a father not truly connected to him.



4 thoughts on “Reading Down the House in May

  1. I’ve been looking forward to your review of The Goldfinch! I haven’t committed to reading it. I usually don’t go for the long ones. I have to conclude you are not recommending it!

    • I wouldn’t go so far as to say I don’t recommend it. In fact, bits are fabulous. The first section really gives you the impact of being part of a terrorist attack – the immediate disorientation and the long term post traumatic stress. Other book clubbers loved it, though admitted to skimming bits. They told me I should do likewise, but that’s what ultimately gets me – if a good book has to be skimmed, then it has to be edited. By the end I didn’t care about the narrator’s meditations on beauty and the meaning of life, I was just glad to have finished it.

      So if you’re happy to skim some bit – like when he’s sick in Amsterdam – then I am happy to recommend this book. (But then I am always loathe to recommend any books because ones I love, other people don’t.)

      So recommend? Yes and no.

      Is that vague enough?

  2. Thank you!! This is the most detail I’ve seen in any review of The Goldfinch! Most of them just warn you that it’s worth reading, just long – not too helpful. I think I’ll put this off a bit longer.

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