My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I took a little over a month to read this book. It’s a long one, coming in at close to 800 pages – and they’re dense pages, too. The book spans many years and locations. Despite the physical and literary length, though, it has a pretty nicely unified plot.
Theo is a young man who experiences a lot of pretty hard-hitting tragedy, early on in life. (And, as a friend of mine who also recently read the book said, the sad stuff just keeps on coming.) But through these sad events, a complex, interesting character emerges.
The first tragedy of the book leads Theo into taking possession of a very important, very old piece of artwork. When I first read a synopsis of the book, I had a hard time imagining how much an inanimate object like a painting of a bird could really drive a book for 800 pages, but Donna Tartt builds good enough characters that it doesn’t even take many central ones to take us through 14(ish) years over the course of all those pages.
Some readers take issue with what they see as factual inaccuracies, judging the timeline by things like actual, real-life terrorist acts; the advent of the iPhone; and other details. As someone who didn’t question too much, and let the story flow by her, I didn’t particularly care for the criticism. If Ms. Tartt missed some opportunities for recent-historical accuracies, they were at least sacrificed in the name of artistic truth.
I also enjoyed seeing into worlds of which I have no practical experience. Much of this book takes place in New York, among a rich and privileged household – but we also get to see deeply into high-end antiques dealing, and Las Vegas lifestyle gamblers, and even some international crime circles.
I’d recommend this book to anyone with some extra time to spare, who appreciates complex characters and unusual plots. This book isn’t a romance, it isn’t a thriller, it isn’t a mystery – it’s straight up literary fiction. Towards the end of the book, I really came to feel so strongly about this painting – Theo’s fondness of it makes sense, and concern over its fate carried me through to the end of the book.
Cover Photo credit: Paula Bailey (AuntieP) on Flickr