This was one of those ‘big, fat, chunky’ book reads. At 800 pages it’s one for either a quick reader or a long holiday. As it happened I was in neither of those two situations when I read it last March. I was in fact unwell. This book was a good companion through a lot of ‘sofa-time’. I LOVED it.
It’s the story of a ‘lost boy’ who suffers a tragic and life-altering loss in his early teens. At the same time he acquires an incredibly beautiful and valuable piece of art work. It’s not a plot spoiler to simply say that the story of how these two factors play out in his life runs into his early twenties and is totally engrossing.
The characters and places are utterly real and believable. I loved ‘Hobie’ the gentle antiques dealer and the Barbour family whose quirkiness is very well drawn. But Theo (who narrates his own story in the first person) and Boris are the main characters. The section of the book when they live in Vegas made me feel dreadful, so graphic was their slide into the self-destructive life-style of deeply damaged young people anywhere. When Boris left the story, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. When Boris returned I bit my nails…
Two of the most amazing things about this novel are it’s sense of place – Tartt describes places as if you were actually there, so much detail. The second thing is her extraordinary grasp on two completely different fields of knowledge – the world of antiques and the drug scene. It felt like she must have taken a degree in both subjects!
Theo (you don’t seem to know his name for ages) describes his loss with such intensity as well clumsy attempts of those around him to deal with him some of which made me cringe. I was totally drawn into his story immediately.
It’s a ‘coming of age’ story. A very thorough ending – I hate it when big books you’ve lived with for a while peter out pathetically with loose ends left flying. If anything Tartt does somewhat over do the ending, putting virtual sermons into the mouths of some of her characters to ram home what the story has been all about.
Essentially it is about how beauty can connect us to some larger beauty, how it is a ‘whisper from an alleyway saying ‘Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you’. ‘The painting’ says Theo, ‘was the secret that raised me above the surface of life and enabled me to know who I am’ and ‘that whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing our selves out of despair’. The book has several layers. That the central character is called ‘Theo’ is one of those layers.
One of the best books I have read in long while.