Year Published: 2013
The no.1 international bestseller, shortlisted for Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014; it’s hard to argue with the power of this book. Clearly, there is something unique, intriguing and heart-rendering if it has got so much positive attention. I can’t deny it; I could not put it down. But it was a bit of a roller coaster for me.
Its basic premise is a coming-of-age story about Theodore Decker, who survived a catastrophe that dramatically altered his life: towards one of the criminal underworld. I really don’t want to say more, as I am worried I might give too much away. Part of the appeal of this book for me was constantly wanting to know what’s next and how Theo will get out of his predicaments.
I was hooked after about 50 pages, and read it religiously last week, always looking for those extra spare 5-10 minutes in my day to sneak in a couple pages (Fun Fact: A lady on the tube was reading it next to me!!). The author’s first-person narrative was an excellent choice, and her writing style is impeccable. I absolutely loved the engagement with art history that permeates throughout the entire book, as well as the intriguing supporting characters: particularly Boris. He is Theo’s eastern European friend who, quite honestly, accurately portrays some of the cultural values of Slavic nations. As I was born in Slovakia, I was particularly drawn to these as they made me chuckle a bit. The random foreign language words that she dipped in were especially clever. This is not to say that ALL Slavic people are like this, just certain qualities I recognized in my Slovak counterparts.
Otherwise, the book is no joke. It deals with complex issues of drugs, alcohol abuse, loss, depression, and general gloom. This, perhaps, is what I enjoyed the least. Firstly, the book could have easily been shortened by at least 200 pages. There were many passages that I felt were too long, and gave excessive information about the character’s thoughts and feelings (often redundant). His thought patterns were actually what made me dislike the main character for a while. Having said that, I can see how this is all a part of the existentialist picture.
At the beginning of the book I felt sympathetic towards the protagonist, I was cheering him on, but by the middle he began to vex me. His decisions were frequently incomprehensible, and it was easy to foretell they would bite him in the butt later on. Also, the constant references to drug/alcohol abuse was a little excessive for me and distanced me from Theo. There were countless of passages re-telling the gruesome details of withdrawal and I lost all sympathy for him. It has a heavy presence in the novel. But maybe that’s just me being scarred by Go Ask Alice. I swear I read that book too early in my lifetime.
Nonetheless, the last few pages are absolutely beautiful and make you ignore all the books’ shortcomings, as the reader is pointed towards the bigger picture. It’s hard to ignore the existentialist message but it’s truly a beautiful one.
Verdict: Would I re-read this book or recommend this to a friend? Absolutely! I’m already adding her other two novels on my to be read list. The positives far outweigh the negatives for me. It’s an enthralling exploration of human fragility and the human condition with strong ties to existentialism. A quick summer read, that dwells deep into the mind and experience of a troubled man. You just want to know how/what/why/who/when!?
Any coming-of-age story that you have read in the past that stood out for you? Have you read Donna Tart’s other novels? Recommendations?