Author: Donna Tartt
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2014
Hardcover Edition: 771 pages
Source: Library Copy
This book is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and also the Carnegie Prize. It has spent 36 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. There are naysayers who have called it a book for youth and a fairy tale. It is not a book for young readers. If the definition of a fairy tale is an unbelievable or untrue story, a lie, or a story of magic deeds, well, maybe. There were times in the reading when the character Boris seemed to do magic, and the story drifted toward the unbelievable.
As the story begins, Theo Decker is a 13-year-old boy who survives an explosion in a museum. His mother does not. He comes away from that experience with a small, but well-known Dutch painting. Theo endures more loss in his life than any person can without serious consequences. The damage to children adrift without support is a painful theme of this story.
One Twitter reader posted that she was half-way through the book, intrigued, and thought the “prose pure pleasure.” This reader felt the same. But, it is a very long book and as it progresses the weather and Theo’s mood both become mostly dark, dank and drug-filled. And Theo’s friend Boris, well, there is, perhaps, too much Boris.
It is a suspenseful novel, and Boris is at the center of much of the intrigue, convoluted as it is at times. Immersion in a long and complicated novel can be very enjoyable, but something about the second half of this one feels less than enjoyable. The suspense continues to build, but it brings more and more sadness.
Ms. Tartt shows us the complexity of life, and as Theo says, its “catastrophic” nature. She enables readers to consider a variety of themes from viewpoints perhaps not previously considered. Obsession, loneliness, dislocation of mind and body, children without functioning parents and the role of beauty are some of the wide-ranging ideas driving the story. Those who describe it as Dickensian do so with good reason. The author conjures each of the varied settings in Theo’s travels with believable certainty, but little warmth. Las Vegas, New York City and Amsterdam seem equally awful, and increasingly, so is the state of Theo’s life. But tension and uncertainty drive the reader to the very last page.
There is no debating the fact it is a powerful book, haunting and unforgettable. One of many questions that arises: Is this book important to understanding twenty-first century life in America? A very scary thought indeed.