The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My Edition: Abacus, 2014
**THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW**
The Goldfinch was a book I had on my shelves for very long time but was always too intimidated and scared to read. After my overly successful read of The Secret History, I was, naturally, afraid that The Goldfinch wouldn’t match up in any way and I would be left disappointed. However, now that I have read and finished it, I can say that although – for me – it didn’t live up to The Secret History, it definitely didn’t disappoint.
You’re not supposed to compare books, I know, but it is always difficult when reading multiple texts by the same author. When reading The Goldfinch, I could sense little pieces of Tartt’s writing I found familiar through my reading of The Secret History. The complicated yet thoughtfully laid out storylines, complicated characters with troubled and mysterious pasts, and the realities of growing up – regardless of your environment – being as complicated as it is just to live. Tartt is known for her attention to detail and intertwined plot points – which is probably why her readers only get a book a decade.
On Goodreads I gave The Goldfinch four out of five stars, and there was one very distinct reason why. Although there were little things that bothered me throughout the novel, the major reason I had to down it a star was because of the death of Theo’s friend Andy. It wasn’t the fact that it happened – because let’s face it, a lot of characters die in this book – but it was the sudden and abrupt way it happened. I know this is actually quite a realistic way of finding out that a childhood friend you have lost contact with dies, but I found this particular aspect of the novel completely unnecessary and more like something that was thrown in last minute.
Thinking back on the novel now, I see the part it played in how the plot progressed, but I kind of had a problem with the entire Theo-and-Kitsy affair, as it cam off as a throw-away part of the book. To me, it just served no purpose.
That all being said, I still really enjoyed The Goldfinch and – as you can see – thought it was good enough to give a solid four star rating to. If you like Donna Tartt, please give it a go and see what you think!
Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
My Edition: Virago, 2009
As I write this review, I have just finished Surfacing this morning. This was my first Margaret Atwood book and I have to say, I am left feeling a bit disappointed.
Maybe it’s because it was only her second published book, so Atwood would still have new to the writing field, but there were so many things I found problematic with the novel and my reading of it.
Surfacing is a novel about young woman who returns to her home on an island in Quebec after hearing about the disappearance of her father. While trying to find out what happened to him, being back home also brings up memories of her life before the novel that she has since blocked out of her own mind. Through the revelation of her past traumas, both the protagonist and the reader find out more about her own identity.
As far as the writing goes, Surfacing was extremely fragmented, which left me feeling disoriented by the book. I have a sneaking suspicion this is exactly the effect Atwood was hoping for – as her main character also finds herself disoriented as she goes back to her family home – but as the reader, it was an incredibly unsettling feeling and made me feel incredibly distanced from the book as whole. As a result, I did not feel motivated to pick it back up (which is exactly why it took me a week to read a 250 page book).
My other critique of the book is fairly generic, so I apologise in advance, but I just found it quite boring. There is no real “plot” to speak of, and despite what the blurb on the back of the book says, this book is no mystery nor thrilling. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that, except for the blatant sexism portrayed (somewhat angrily) by the men in this novel, it’s hard to recall anything that happened at all.
Unfortunately, this was not a winner for me. That being said, I still look forward to reading some of Atwood’s later work, such as Cats Eye, The Robber Bride, and The Handmaids Tale.
Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
My Edition: Penguin Clothbound, 2013
One of my biggest fears being in university and studying English Literature is that I won’t be able to enjoy classic for a very, very long time. It makes sense though – being the I spend eight months out of the year picking apart, analysing, and interrogating countless classic texts that are either a result and a catapult for a major societal movement.
Far From the Madding Crowd, however, reinstalled my confidence in my capability to enjoy classical literature without spending hours needing to understand every single space. Admittedly scared, once I picked up FFTMC I couldn’t and wouldn’t dare put it down.
While I sit here and wonder where to start, I can’t help but try and hold back how much I want to spill out praise for the character of Bathsheba. As the heroine of our novel, it never ceases to empower me as I read Bathsheba’s consistent engagement with her own autonomy and control over the life she chooses to live. As Bathsheba comes into quite a bit of money and power through the will of her uncle – who leaves her in control of his large farm – Bathsheba must learn to keep strong in her position; one of man’s – at least, certainly in the eyes of the people around her.
Described as a “handsome” woman, Bathsheba gets marriage proposals from three different men in Hardy’s novel, and regardless of the scrutiny over her strong will and hard headedness, men fall for her long dark her and make a game of torture over her unwillingness to comply. Indeed, one of the biggest feats of Bathsheba’s life at the time is convincing people that she can live and be successful on her own.
I have always thought that Thomas Hardy’s writing style is captivating, and this book was no different. Righting at the peak of the realism movement, Hardy depicts life as it was, with a slight emphasis put on the negative. Money, ownership, and power in small-town England was most prominent, and that is conveyed truthfully and honestly throughout the entirety of the novel.
However, I always find myself astounded at the plot of the book versus the writer. As a white, British male, Hardy would be the last one my list of writers who presented strong female characters. In Bathsheba, though, Hardy also points the reader to the “new woman” movement (which he, more prominently, describes int he two main female characters in Jude the Obscure). Hardy really brings this movement home in the form of Bathsheba, a woman put in a traditionally male’s position and trying to hold her own.
Far From the Madding Crowd was more than a pleasant surprise for this university student, and on my Goodreads account it was an easy five stars.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My Edition: Del Rey (Penguin Random House), 2017
Coming off the recommendation of some very trust-worthy book reviewers, I picked up The Bear and the Nightingale hoping for the fairy tale retelling of 2017. Unfortunately, I didn’t find myself completely engaged with the novel – although, it may not be the books fault…
At the time that I picked up Katherine Arden’s debut, I was also asked to work triple my contracted hours at my part time job, making for a very, very distracted reader. Although I really wanted to integrate myself with the story, my eyes would quickly start to make their way downwards and I would be off to sleep. Because of this, I want to tread lightly with my review.
I ended up giving this book a respectable three out of five stars. It was well written, thought-through, and pulled really nicely from the original Russian fairy tale that it references in the first chapter – which, it so happens, also makes for a great set up for the rest of the book. The characters were fairly well rounded and there was lots of action and intrigue. However, because of my (very) personal experience reading the book – which meant that I had to read it in bits over two weeks – I could only give it the middle rating of three stars. I would still recommend it, though (especially in winter time) and would love to see this made into a film.
And that was it for June! There’s going to be a bit of a change over here on the blog and starting next month I’m going to be doing individual reviews and a monthly blog & YouTube wrap up post that will keep you updated on what’s been going on! Also, I’ve acquired a new affiliate link with Amazon, so if you choose to buy the books I mentioned through the links down below, I can afford my rent! Woo!
I’m looking forward to these kind of changes and I hope that you guys like it too!
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