Tag Archives: Art

Review: The Goldfinch


The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch
By Donna Tartt
(Little, Brown and Company, Hardcover, 9780316055437,  October 2013, 784pp.)

The Short of It:

Memory, in and of itself, has the ability to restore and destroy.

The Rest of It:

While visiting a New York art museum, Theodore Decker, thirteen, is separated from his mother in an explosion that leaves him dazed and confused. In the immediate moments after the blast, Theo sees, and takes, a valuable painting for safekeeping. Not fully understanding what has happened or why, he stumbles out of the rubble but his life is forever frozen in time. When he realizes he has lost his dear mother, he finds himself floating through life, encountering many obstacles along the way and revisiting those final moments in the museum over and over again.

This is one hell of a book.

It’s long and I know some readers who won’t even touch it because of its length but they are really doing themselves a disservice because it is really a fine piece of work. I had planned to read it “someday” but when it was chosen for book club, I was pushed encouraged to read it a little bit sooner than I had planned and then it was awarded the Pulitzer which piqued my interest even more.

The Goldfinch  is an adventure. It meanders, there is action but not that much of it and it’s repetitive when it comes to behaviors like the excessive drinking and drug use that riddle its pages. But even with all of this going on, it’s incredibly heartbreaking and yes, beautiful. At first glance, Theo seems to be handling his loss quite well, but with each page, his pain and devastation become more real, more tangible and he becomes more reliant on the actions of others to save him. Not to mention the painting and the significance behind him taking it in the first place. Its purpose, so it seems, is to remind him of that fateful day but as it certainly does just that, it’s also a constant reminder of what he needs to do to keep it safe.

This is a book with some memorable characters too. Boris, the Ukrainian kid Theo hooks up with, is part hoodlum, part philosopher but more than anything, Theo’s best friend. Think “The Artful Dodger”. Popper, a mutt that Theo takes pity on, ends up being a loyal companion to Theo and one cannot forget Hobie, the lovable furniture maker who takes Theo in when he has nowhere else to go. These unlikely characters come together to essentially save Theo from himself, but it’s not always evident that that is what is happening. There are lots of pitfalls along the way and the journey can be tedious, but in the end, I found myself loving the story, wishing I had taken more time with the last few pages. It’s about love and trust and redemption and what’s not to like with its art world setting?

Talking about it here, I realize just how much I miss the characters. So, even though it’s long and intimidating to some, I urge you to pick it up because it’s really a book to experience first-hand.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Painted Girls

The Painted Girls

The Painted Girls
By Cathy Marie Buchanan
(Riverhead Hardcover, Hardcover, 9781594486241, January 2013, 368pp.)

The Short of It:

A heart wrenching story of love and survival in 19th century Paris.

The Rest of It:

The Painted Girls is a rich, detailed account of the van Goethem sisters and their struggle to earn a meager living after their father’s sudden death. Antoinette, Marie and Charlotte live with their mother in a shabby, one room flat. Always hungry, and always behind on the rent, they snatch up food scraps whenever they can and what little money they have, is spent on their mother’s absinthe. Literally wasting away, these girls are young and frail and vulnerable and after Antoinette gets kicked out of the ballet for being head strong and difficult, their only hope is for Marie and Charlotte to enter the Paris Opera themselves as petit rats. Petit rats are the lowest level of dancer you can be but they aspire to be part of the quadrille, which would earn them a few more francs for their pocket.

Little Dancer Aged 14
Little Dancer, Aged 14 (Degas)

As the oldest, Antoinette looks out for her sisters and has spent years giving up food so they can have a tiny bit more in their stomachs, but when she falls in love with a real loser, her priorities change. Suddenly, everything that is important to her revolves around Èmile. Marie is the first to notice the change in her sister, and as she struggles with the exhaustion of dancing and working long hours, she begins to resent her sister’s relationship. Things do not come easy for Marie. She is not as attractive as the other girls. Everything she gets, has to be fought for so when they lose her sister’s income, she decides to model for Edgar Degas. The result, is Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (above). But the money is not enough. Modeling turns into prostitution and then Antoinette ends up in real trouble.

What a story!

It’s so interesting to read a book based on fact. I am not a fan of historical fiction. I should rephrase that. It’s not a genre I reach for. However, when I do read it, I find that I like it quite a bit. Buchanan’s take on this story is a little dark with the prostitution/prison aspect of the story and all. I wasn’t expecting it to be so dark,  but it grabbed me and made me feel for these girls. Oh! And the parts about being hungry! They live on hardly anything at all and then they are expected to dance all day long. It’s heartbreaking! A tiny bit of stale bread is a treat to them. But the imagery of the dancing and what they do on stage gives the reader hope for a better life for these girls.

Structurally, I found the pacing of the story just right. I lingered over some parts and read a bit faster to get through the unpleasant parts, but all in all, it was a solid, beautifully rendered take on the van Goethem sisters and their connection to the Degas work you see above.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.