I don't often pronounce on a book before I am at least half way through it, and even then it can all still go horribly wrong, but we are almost at the end of another reading year so time to throw caution to the wind and say that a mere 11% in, THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt, published by Little Brown, might turn out of be one of, if not my Best Read of 2013.
Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love - and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph - a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.
I don't often choose a Best Read either so there's another rash moment, and of course there's many a slip twixt now and the final page, but I am optimistic.
I was painfully late to the party with Donna Tartt's first novel The Secret History, so much so that, though I enjoyed it, it had built up in my imagination to something so toweringly good that nothing was really going to come close, and the same might have happened with The Goldfinch had Harriet Devine not written this and posted a link on Facebook...
'Have you ever had the experience of finishing a book and feeling as if you will never find another one that remotely measures up? That's how I felt when I got to the end of The Goldfinch...'
I'll own up that I skimmed the rest because I that was all I wanted to know at this stage ...
The Goldfinch is a huge, heavy (1.2kgs) 800 page book and I had picked it up a few times, read a few pages, put it down thinking I'll never slip that casually into my bag and down to the Bedford Hotel for coffee and cake and a read, and I'm too busy for a long book anyway, before moving on to something shorter. Then my new Kindle (300gms) arrived so I downloaded the sample, and with Harriet's words jumping around in my mind I sat down to read it... and then bought the e version (yes really) because I'm not sure it's possible to read the sample and not want to know what happens next to thirteen-year old Theo Decker. I almost wish I was reading this over Christmas, too late now I can't possibly put it on hold, but it would be perfect hunker-down fare...
Even convinced a Kiwi in about 60 seconds that this was the PERFECT AND ONLY book for the long-haul journey to New Zealand they are embarking on today. 'I'd give my eye teeth to be shut away with The Goldfinch for 32 hours...' was all it took, plus the fact that she had loved The Secret History, for the book to be straight on her Kindle. Eleanor Catton went to her high school so I've agreed to read The Luminaries in return.
December has been a good month for a chunkster in the past. The year I picked up Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susannah Clark on Advent Sunday, Christmas almost didn't happen, and every time I glimpse the black spine of the book on the shelf I can instantly recall the joy and total immersion of that read.
Right me... right moment... right book.
And I think the same thing might be happening now with The Goldfinch.
If the book falls off its perch I promise I will come back and let you know, and say why, and hope I don't bump into the Kiwi for a while, but for now I am happy to report that the pages are chirruping away merrily, and if it carries on like this and with the Booker now open to US novelists, well I think I know where my £10 wager might be going.
I can't believe I have just said that...I stopped Booker predictions years ago.
I'm sure you all know that buzz of excitement a brilliant book creates, it just happens, a sort of biblio-electrical current charges through, so please do name your own high-wattage book, I could do with some more reads like this.
PS Now at 38% and the book remains steadfastly on its perch... I can't bear to put it down and I can't wait to pick it up again.