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THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt

5 Feb

“Use Grammarly’s online proofreader because your other option is auto-correct, and it’s error-atic at best.”

It’s been a long time coming. Both this book, and my review of it.

In fact, I waited over a decade for Ms. Tartt to publish the follow-up to her acclaimed novel The Little Friend. When I discovered via PM that her new book The Goldfinch was slated to be published at the end of 2013, I was ecstatic. I quickly made note of the publication date, and started to count down the days until I would have her new book in my hands. There was some trepidation with regards to whether or not I should allow myself to get so excited about her new work. She hadn’t published anything in over a decade, and I was worried that the book would not stand up to its hype. Fortunately, my anxiety was all for nought. By all accounts, The Goldfinch is Ms. Tartt’s best work to date. The eleven year wait was well worth it, and I would gladly wait another decade for her next book if it is anywhere near as engaging and entertaining as her latest.

When I refer to The Goldfinch as being Ms. Tartt’s best work to date, I am referring to the fact that there is a maturity to the work that wasn’t present in her last two books. Not just a maturity to the writing itself, but to the characters as well. Not to imply that her previous characters were one-dimensional in any shape or form, but rather her latest work stars characters that are fuller, fleshier in the space they take up on the page. These characters have truly lived. They are marked by a beauty and tragedy of life in a way her previous characters were not.  And it makes sense. Ms. Tartt has lived more herself. And in the way her own person has been marked by a fuller life , so too have her characters.

I do not wish to reveal any of the plot for those who have not read the book yet. All I will say, is that by far the character that stole the show for me was Boris. In my opinion, he drove the narrative and stole the limelight in every scene he starred in. There were only a few points in the book where the plot started to lag, and whenever I would start to feel myself pulling away from the narrative, Boris would appear on the scene and catapult me right back into the thick of things. Speaking of the beauty and tragedy that can be found in life, Boris was the epicentre; in that his life was built on equal parts of all that is beautiful and tragic in this world. And therein lies the tragi-comedy that makes The Goldfinch such a spectacular read. When you recognize the world for what it is, you can’t help but laugh. And although The Goldfinch has its fair share of somber moments, there is a strong undercurrent of humour pulsating throughout the entire novel with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.

These are characters you emotionally connect with, and form attachments to. I shared in Theo Decker’s anxiety as he navigates the seedy underbelly of the art world. I felt my heart break on numerous occasions for both Theo and Boris as they leave their messed up adolescence behind and attempt to forge new lives for themselves in their adulthood. And every time they falter, you wish you could step in and steer them in a better direction. I would go so far as to say that we all have a bit of Theo and Boris in us, and in the people we know in our real lives. We’re all broken in our own way, and it was refreshing to see such heavily flawed characters honestly portrayed on the page.

Just buy the book. You won’t regret it.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

16 May

I borrowed this book from my Sister. Both she and my Father had read it, and they both had enjoyed it. We tend to share the same taste in literature, and so I trust their judgement when it comes to books. I had never read anything by Ms. Waters, but when I read the line ‘An elegantly written, chill-inducing novel of psychological suspense…’ I was sold. I love a good mystery, especially when it is laden with psychological undertones.

The book itself could be classified as a tome, weighing in at 463 pages. This is not a book to be read in one sitting. With that being said, there is nothing languid about the pacing of this book. Like any good mystery, there is that gradual progression of suspense being instilled with every turn of the page. As the story unfolds, you realize the plot is driven in equal parts by the atmospheric backdrop of the Ayres decaying estate, as well as the disenfranchised characters that dwell within the narrative. As the reader, you are being drawn slowly and carefully into the damaged lives of the Ayres family, and are granted a birds eye view of their dismantled and war torn lives.

As the story progresses, the author begins to reveal startling insights into the psyche of each and every character. Like a psychological case study, we begin to uncover the most unsettling aspects of human nature, and the disturbing effects that war and desolation can conjure. Each character is battling their own demons; succumbing to a merciless past that refuses to set them free. Plagued by their unrelenting past, and facing their unforgiving futures, the family gives way to sheer madness. What makes the narrative all the more sinister is the fact that in the minds of the characters, the decrepit walls and ceilings that surround them, have taken on a life force of their own: A dark, and menacing force, that results in the onset of a series of horrific and troubling ‘accidents’.

As tragedy strikes repeatedly, and the family members suffering escalates, the characters believe themselves to have fallen prey to a vindictive force that they are ill equipped to battle. But is this the case? Was this force lying dormant for years, and after a long slumber found itself awoken by the tortured souls that walked its corridors? Or were the Ayres’ minds already so far gone, that they created this ‘little stranger’ in a means of conceding to their dying way of life. I do not want to give anything away, and so I advise you to read this book, and decide for yourself.

There are no comfortable solutions or conclusions to this book. Although it is a quiet drama,  its effects are as haunting as they are long lasting. From start to finish, the writing is completely absorbing, replete with the mournful and angry sentiment that pervades works like du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. It truly is a modern day gothic masterpiece.

The Waterproof Bible

19 Mar

I had promised a review of Tinkers this month, but when I committed to attending this month’s book club meet hosted by my intern, I quickly changed tracks and started in on Andrew Kaufman’s The Waterproof Bible. Mr. Kaufman first grabbed my attention back in the early 2000’s when I attended a Coach House reading event at the Jane Bond (in my old neighborhood of Waterloo). He was reading an excerpt from his first book entitled All My Friends Are Superheroes, and within a mere second or two, another Kaufman fan was born.

Like his previous work, this book speaks to the similar theme of ordinary people exhibiting extraordinary physical and or emotional abilities, and what occurs as their lives are put under a magnifying glass. The result is an array of perplexing and fantastical events…a continuous stream of absurd, yet delightful encounters between the characters as their individual stories unfold.

Straight away we are introduced to Rebecca Reynolds, a woman incapable of containing her true feelings from the world. Every emotion she feels, is automatically projected onto others. Attaching special meaning to particular things, she currently rents a storage unit that is full from top to bottom with these items. Rebecca has just lost her younger sister Lisa, and on our first introduction, she is harbouring (and projecting) large quantities of hatred for her brother-in-law Lewis. There are several reasons why she hates Lewis, the main reason being he was unable to save her sister.

Lewis is the widowed husband of Lisa, and when we first come to know him, he is reluctantly battling his own demons. Lewis recognizes that he should be immersed in grief, and yet he’s struggling to feel all that he is supposed to. After a bizarre and unexpected encounter with an amphibian woman, Lewis decides to surrender to his ambiguous feelings, and ditches his wife’s funeral and adopts a nomadic lifestyle instead.

We soon come to realize that Rebecca has an estranged husband, Stewart, who is currently residing in an unfrequented Inn situated in the random locale of Morris, Manitoba. Stewart is inflicted by pangs of grief, doubt, uncertainty etc. He is still grappling with the estrangement from his wife Rebecca, and has taken to devoting all of his time and energy to the construction of a boat…in a place that is currently suffering from an extended drought.

The amphibian woman is on a personal quest of her own. She is seeking to be reunited with her land dwelling Mother, the Mother who deserted her as a child so that she could live like the humans and breathe hot air, instead of water, through her gills. Her Mother Margaret, who just happens to be the owner of the Inn, has become Stewart’s confidant, and only source of emotional support. Stewart cannot seem to put his finger on it, but he suspects that there is something unusual about Margaret. For one, her age is completely unknown to him. Margaret could be anywhere between her late thirties to mid seventies…and what could be the cause of her unearthly green skin tone?

With multiple narratives, and no shortage of quirky and humorous plot twists, The Waterproof Bible is a sheer delight to read. My only complaint, is that the somber topics in the narrative are not given their due when it comes to the finale of the book. Like a typical feel good film, the ending sees all of the characters achieving their happy outcome. Although the wrap up was a bit too sentimental and polished for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the momentous climax of the book…not to mention the aquatic back story, replete with aquatic biblical references and a fictional language only spoken by those that live beneath the surface of the Atlantic ocean. There is much to be enjoyed within the pages of this book…and I recommend you dig in for yourself.

Mathilda by Mary Shelley

26 Feb

Initially, I was of the mindset that I was going to review one book a month. Sadly, this has not been the case. When you spend your days assessing manuscripts, it’s hard to spend your down time doing what it is you do while working: Reading. Nevertheless, I am going to try my best and follow through with my original goal. Even if it means I can only manage to read and review novellas.

With that being said, this month I managed to conquer Mary Shelley’s Mathilda. Of all of Shelley’s works, Mathilda is her most controversial. Although it was written in 1819, it was not published until 1959. Some critics felt the work was autobiographical, and that the three central characters within the text stood for William Godwin, Percy Shelley, and Mary Shelley. When Mary submitted the work to her Father for publication, he refused to publish it based on the fact that he found the central theme of incest to be completely revolting.

Mary wrote Mathilda as a means to distract herself from the grief she was suffering from over the recent deaths of her two children. The dark state of mind she was in when she wrote the text certainly inspired the overall mood and setting of the piece. The writing is incredibly dark and atmospheric, and the first-person narrative could easily be described as a detailed and disturbing psychological case study. Dealing with taboo subjects, such as incestuous love and depression, the narrative is undoubtedly fascinating. As a reader you will find yourself completely hypnotized by the palpable misery that is  so deeply entrenched within the text that you cannot help but fall prey to the gloominess that enshrouds all the characters. Mesmerized as you are by this haunting account, you will  surely not accrue one ounce of enjoyment from reading it.

 Mathilda deals with common Romantic themes of incest and suicide; namely the incestuous love a Father harbours for his only daughter, and the impending suicide resulting from his guilt and shame. Withdrawing from society, our protagonist is revisited daily by her ghastly memories and in the end succumbs to suicidal thoughts and spends her days waiting to die.

This is truly one of the most depressing books I have ever had the pleasure to read and review. I will do my best to review something more lighthearted next time.