Somehow, years ago, when everyone was reading Donna Tartt's debut novel, The Secret History, I did not. I don't recall making a conscious decision not to read it, I guess somehow it just slipped through the cracks. Eventually I put it on The List, but I still haven't gotten around to it. Part of me wonders if I missed my opportunity, that it won't be as meaningful to me now as it was to everyone else then (in terms of both the era and my age).
Anyhooo, what I did do was read Tartt's latest novel (yeah, the one that won the Pulitzer), The Goldfinch. And it's taken me a few days (and coffee out with a friend who'd read it) for me to formulate my thoughts. It's a big book—775 pages—and although I thought it could be shortened considerably, I still plowed through it and read every word. Tartt's a terrific writer, for the most part, although I have to fault her copyeditor for letting slide some overly repetitive words/phrases and, worse, for allowing some nearly unparseable sentences. (I believe that if you have to go back and reread a sentence one or more times in order to figure out what it's saying—and I mean the basics: what the subject is and what the verb is—it's not a good sentence.) But the characters and descriptions were beautifully done; I really felt immersed in the bizarre world of Theo, our narrator.
Right off the bat, Theo is the victim of a terrible tragedy, and his life gets no easier as he is tossed from one bad situation to another. His pain and fear and confusion and overwhelming sense of loss are all palpable. But it's the other two main characters in the book who really captivated me. Boris is Theo's smart, slightly crazy, nothing-left-to-lose best friend from the Ukraine, whose own life of deprivation and depravation rivals Theo's. As much as I wanted to throttle Boris at many times, I just loved him. And I also loved Hobie, the gentle, loving antique furniture restorer who offers Theo the closest thing to stability that he may ever find.
The plot takes many dips and turns, all revolving around Theo's attempts to fashion some sort of life for himself, and also the disappearance of a famous painting, but that's all I'll say about it. I found the plot absolutely fascinating, and I couldn't wait to see how it would turn out. And I was very satisfied with the ending, so for those of you who hate books with a neither-here-nor-there ending, don't worry about this one.
About the ending, though: I really, really didn't like the last 50 pages or so. I felt as though Tartt's editor called and said, "MONDAY MORNING AT 9 AM IS YOUR FINAL DEADLINE!" Because it felt epilogue-y, which I hate. It read as though an art history professor was called in to give a lecture in a philosophy class. Don't get me wrong, there was plenty of insight there, but it felt force-fed to me. I would have much rather been shown the connections than just flat out told. Whenever a book ends with, "I don't know if anyone will ever read these pages, but here are the conclusions I've drawn...." I want to scream. Give me what I need to draw those conclusions, don't just list them for me! And the pace of the rest of the book was very slow—at times almost excruciatingly slow—making the last part feel even more quick and tacked on. So, maybe Tartt was rushed, or maybe she just didn't know how to end the book gracefully, but I felt a bit cheated. It was still a wonderful book and one I won't forget for a long time, if ever, but I do regret that the last part didn't hold a candle to the preceding 700+ pages.
So, who's read it, and what did you think? And should I bother with The Secret History or did I miss my chance with it?