Let’s start with what’s to love:
1. The sweeping arc of this work – and by sweeping I mean hundreds upon hundreds of pages (over 700) which echo of Dickens and epic sagas set in the back streets of quaint towns of yesteryear. I really loved Tartt’s vision in creating the layers of this narrative. I loved the way she introduced us to her protagonist, Theo, and then stretched him out, exploring the nuances of his perplexing existence all through the lens of this painting and its drama.
2. The characters – Tartt is a wizard at building characters and this book is full of them – Theo, his mother, Boris, Pippa and the magnificent Hobbie brings Dickens to life in this modern text.
3. The premise of the plot – an art gallery, an explosion, a survival, a missing painting. What’s not to love?
4. The wonderful drug induced mania that Theo and Boris wade through and the trauma that this brings with it – this was so vivid and tragic that it echo consistently through this work.
5. The landscape – Tartt swiftly unfolds New York with its bustling streets and its hidden nooks and crannies and then throws us into the desert of Las Vegas, leaving us on the veritable edge of the wilderness, a barren housing estate symbolic of the failure of American prosperity and vaguely reminiscent, in my mind, of T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes and the stretching ash in The Great Gatsby.
And what’s to hate? It’s simple. The editors let Tartt down in this book – or she let herself down by insisting on such rambling prose. This novel seemed to never end. I read it for hours and hours and days upon days which flowed into weeks. I don’t think it’s taken me so long to plough through a tome since I read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose at university. And it was infuriating because I loved the premise of the story and the characters but the book’s length plagued my reading experience and there was whole sections which I felt could have been left to my imagination.
So, I’m undecided about this book. So much to love but so indulgent in its length … Tartt has left me confused.
For a beautiful and intriguing review, don’t miss Vanity Fair’s take on this book!