The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life”

Rating: ★★★★★

Having read The Secret History this time last summer, I thought I’d give this a go, beginning with high expectations. I was right to do so; The Goldfinch exceeded every pre-emptive belief I had. Taking the format of a  Bildungsroman, the reader takes a journey through the tragic life of protagonist Theo Decker, after his mother dies during an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I took a particular interest to the novel due to its Art History references, particularly around the Dutch painting, The Goldfinch, by Fabritius. Interestingly, the painting rather plays the underlying link to each stage in Theo’s life.

Tartt’s extraordinary prose did not fail to intrigue. Her careful attention to the complexity of her characters made me forget this was fiction. While slow at times, the paces mirrored reality. Hobie, Boris, Theo, Pippa, Kitsey. Characters that were flawed and realistic; all clinging together by a string of fate. I did not lose interest throughout the near 900-page book, and I believed it was an adequate length to span the coming-of-age character Theodore Decker.

I’ve noticed, many reviewers had the expectations of The Secret History. I feel these two books must be viewed as entirely separate in order to appreciate them on different levels, after all, The Goldfinch was written two decades after her original title. It’s hard not to draw similarities and differences between the two, yet they are seemingly incomparable. And while they share the same profound prose, they are compelling in entirely different ways.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the slow pace of the novel that made it feel as though I wasn’t reading the novel, but rather watching a show. An incredible account of a young boy facing the loss of his mother, while gaining a stolen painting, the book is not one to miss.

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Too Much and Not the Mood, Durga Chew-Bose

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“A nook person finds the dog at the party; drinks wine from a mug; sits on the floor and braids carpet tassels only to become self-conscious and unbraid them.”

Rating: ★★★★★

I finished this book about ten minutes ago and felt such a need to review this and put my thoughts out there. Too Much and Not the Mood was everything I needed and more. Taking influence from Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary, Chew-Bose has seamlessly sewn together several essays exploring culture and identity.

The first (and longest) essay, ‘Heart Museum’ was one that particularly struck a chord with me. I had never found a text so relatable before. I found myself rereading sentences, memorising quotes, and read parts so slowly as to absorb every inch of new information I had received. Having read Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, I had assumed this would be comparable. But it exceeds and extends every preconception I had of personal essays. The writing was extremely cinematic and essays merged into poetic prose. Chew-Bose manages so tenderly to portray such thoughts that do seem inconceivable, and impossible to put into words.

I did feel, at times, that Chew-Bose was actually writing about my life, because it was so extremely personal. She is able to combine quite intellectual thoughts and weave them into everyday life narratives that are so easy to emphasise with. Such a fluidity to her writing allows you to read it at ease, and there is no force for understanding. It seemed to me that I needed this book at the precise times of reading it, and I read it slowly so I could take it in with such a depth that I could carry it forever.

I will admit that the essays following ‘Heart Museum,’ whilst still beautiful, I did not gain such a strong connection with. They were shorter, and I recommend reading one essay at a time, because they do merge into one. Chew-Bose talks about small, seemingly unimportant things in big ways. Her writing is new and she takes the subject of nostalgia and moulds it into something you have not read before. This was a book that I have spent late summer evenings, lazing in the warmth of the sun, pondering about. It was the book that I was so indulged in while sitting on the train, that I almost missed my stop. It was a book that makes me question what I was before I had actually read the book, and the book that made me realise who I was and what I need. I was different before I read this, but I can’t quite put my finger on the change.

It’s honest, stimulating and heart-warming. If you need a new, refreshing touch to prose, this is the book to read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

There but for the, Ali Smith

“Think how quiet a book is on a shelf, he said, just sitting there, unopened. Then think what happens when you open it.”

Rating: ★★★★

Primarily due to feeling quite awful about rating Girl Meets Boy so terribly, I thought I would review another of Smith’s books to show her writing in a different light because she is my favourite author and perhaps this time I will do her justice.

What I love so much about Smith’s writing is her blurring between boundaries. With the lack of speech marks, there’s often confusion between what is said and what is thought, and who is saying what. This sounds really confusing but its actually extremely clever in that it makes you think more in depth about the text. The title. There but for the what? There but for the grace of God go I? – A saying that essentially means you avoid the mistakes that others have made, yet understand them. Smith also wants us to view these four words as separate sections. There. But. For. The. Four different chapters of the novel.

Opening with a dinner party, Miles Garth takes himself upstairs and locks himself in one of the rooms, and doesn’t come out for months. The consequences of his actions are catalytic for the prose, and we see how he affects those around him. A character who is at first quite opaque, Miles Garth is shown to us through other characters, particularly Anna K. The novel is not entirely present, and we go back 20 years or so ago. It’s about communication, relationships. How you can lose contact so quickly with someone who meant so much to you before. There isn’t much plot. We are missing the last word of this sentence; for the what? More importantly – WHY? Why did Miles Garth lock himself in the guest room during this dinner party? Why does he eventually leave the room? The novel poses a lot of questions that are left unanswered, this lack of core in this story is what the prose evolves around. Miles is merely the connection between the four parts of the story. He has a relationship with all four of these people, and thus he is more of a pivotal point within the novel rather than the protagonist.

I find it incredibly difficult to know what to write or what to think about Ali Smith’s work. All I know, is that I loved this novel. It is hard to review because I’ve nothing to compare it to, and not a real plot to consider it a real story but rather a mixture of narratives and timelines, that have, at one point in time, crossed over. Her prose, as always, is lyrical and beautifully put. Such indulgent language is intellectual and filled with wordplay. It is a rewarding read and although at times confusing, I highly recommend.

Girl Meets Boy, Ali Smith

Rating: ★★

“Like that poem I knew, about how you sit and read your way through a book then close the book and put it on the shelf, and maybe, life being so short, you’ll die before you ever open that book again and its pages, the single pages, shut in the book on the shelf, will maybe never see light again…”

Sadly I was disappointed with this book. As you can see from the image, I have quite an affection for the writings of Ali Smith, and my blog title is inspired by Artful. Girl Meets Boy, however, didn’t seem to meet the standards of those I had read previously and somewhat lacked in the enticement that first drew me to Ali Smith, with my first novel being How to Be Both. I finished it after a couple of hours throughout the day; it’s a short novel with large print.

The novel take its foundation from the myth of Iphis in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, and is essentially a postmodern retelling. The main themes are around gender and sexuality; taking an old story and placing it in the modern age. With a political and feminist agenda, this sometimes feels as though it gets in the way of the narrative. Full of interesting characters and what seems like could-be plots, the book feels as though it has been cut short, and perhaps should have been more extended.

The prose, as usual, was lyrical. Smith’s lack of speech marks gives her writing a stream-of-consciousness feel, and makes the reader pay more attention. Maybe because I was so hyped about Smith’s previous novels was the reason I didn’t feel so strongly about this one. The lack of plot made the book seem more like political agenda, which could have been more at home in an essay rather than a narrative.

Girl Meets Boy was whimsical, short, and sweet, and there’s not much else to say. While it didn’t make my top 5 Ali Smith books, it still managed to hold my attention, so I suppose that says something.

The Passion According to G.H., Clarice Lispector 

Rating: ★★★★

“Real life is so secret that not even I, who am dying of it, have been given the password, I am dying without knowing of what.”

I am not quite sure what I have just read. To be frank, I’m still processing the hazy, surreal thoughts of my subconscious that this book stirred. If you’re into a novel that has a distinct plot and narrative then this isn’t for you. A book that stays almost entirely in stream-of-consciousness prose, Lispector enables the reader to reflect on the protagonists’ own thoughts, requiring a focused and open mind. The only thing that could have made this book better was if I were able to read it unfiltered through translation.

The sculptress, known only as G.H, which are the initials monogrammed on her suitcases, is going through a metaphysical and existential crisis. Upon entering her maid’s room, she discovers a cockroach in the dark crevices of a cupboard, which triggers a sort of revelation inside her. Attempting to kill the cockroach by slamming the cupboard door, this moment is pivotal and climatic in the novel, opening up an entire new attitude toward her perspectives and notions of humanity.

To get things straight, this is all of the action that happens in the novel. The rest, is entirely thought. Whilst sometimes harsh and often unpleasant, the book is somewhat reminiscent of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, although whether this is deliberate I am unaware. Sentences are short and thought-provoking, and often I had to backtrack due to such heavily in-depth language – you definitely have to be in the right mindset to read this one. You ask questions you have never thought about before, such beautiful and descriptive language awakens something inside of you – I have such an urge to read more of Lispectors’ work.

An attempt to evoke the unsayable, Lispector has written something of a miracle. Its mesmerising prose feels almost audible; I forgot I was reading at parts because I was so invested in the novel. Its hypnotic effect was a feeling I had not felt so strongly from a book before. Existential aspects were familiar of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, which also took place over a short period of time, and also similarly (but a lot more violently) killed a man which triggered his thoughts. It seems apparent that perhaps deliberately parts of this novel seem so incomprehensible to the reader – as if Lispector is suggesting the power of language cannot even translate such universal thoughts and feelings.

The complexity of this novel still has me confused over a few aspects, and I hope to read it again to gain a new understanding; I have so much to say on this book and would love to write a second review. If you have the patience, and want some strange new thoughts hovering in your mind, this is the book to read. Filled to the brim with non-stop monologue and existential questions of life and death, The Passion According to G.H is a heavy, but rewarding read.

Hot Milk, Deborah Levy

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“I confess that I am often lost in all the dimensions of time, that the past sometimes feels nearer than the present and I often fear the future has already happened.”

Rating:  ★★★

I bought this book on a whim when I was browsing the Waterstones ‘new releases’ last summer, yet it became a sort of ‘meant to be’ decision that tied in with fate. I began the novel last summer in a rented car, driving down the southern coast of Spain alongside my two loud sisters and underneath the scorching sun. Coincidentally, this was where the book was set. Andalusia is a beautiful region of the country and to be able to visit the places while immersed in the prose was a kind of surreal experience, making the narrative feel extremely personal and real. Think white-washed buildings, deep blue skies and seas – the romantic scenery is harmonic and gives an atmosphere of serenity.

The novel depicts young woman Sophia, her mother, and a lot of Medusa jellyfish. Sophia has halted her Anthropology doctoral thesis to look after her sick, hypochondriac mother, with a mysterious illness and their last resort is to visit a specialist doctor in Spain. There’s a relaxed energy to the novel; Sophia spends much of her time waiting for her mother’s illness to be discovered. She is essentially free in her current position, yet feels trapped by her mother’s illness. Hot Milk seems a particularly relevant title, referencing the femininity which is so central to the text. Hot milk signifies the bond between mother and daughter, and perhaps the more sensual aspect of the female breast. There are several androgynous aspects to the character of Sophia, and we see her attracted to both a young male and female.

The story is dreamy, drifting from reality to the imaginary – Sophia often questions what is real and what is not, while the reader feels so vividly the breeze of the ocean and the smell of the sand. Sophia has lost focus in her life, and Spain becomes a sort of ‘in-between,’ serving as a kind of disconnected point in reality and out of sync with the world. The novel perhaps serves more as a journey, for a meaning of consciousness. Sophia wants to find her place, and a reason for her life. The prose is fresh, and the stream of consciousness aspect works well with a narrative that focuses primarily on the inner world of the protagonist.

The novel is bizarre and hypnotic, yet fluffy at times – there is a lack of plot to bite into. I feel there was perhaps a deeper meaning that I might have missed; I just wish I could have connected to it more than I had.

 

Also, I don’t know whether anyone would be interested but I am considering featuring a few posts on my journals and how I approach the art. If you like the idea please hit me up!

Strange the Dreamer, Laini Taylor

“Sometimes a moment is so remarkable that it carves out a space in time and spins there, while the world rushes on around it. This was one such.”

Rating: ★★★★★

Feeling a little nostalgic after coming home for a short break from university last month, I wanted to read a book that reminded me of the magical worlds I lived in during my childhood. Having seen this new release featured on several Instagram feeds, I decided to check out Strange the Dreamer for myself and was quickly intrigued by the idea that ‘the dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around.’ On arrival, I was taken aback by the beautiful stark blue cover embossed with a moth and gold lettering, and instantly knew that this magical novel was exactly what I needed to feel like a child again.

Lazlo Strange is an orphaned young man raised by monks, later becoming a junior librarian. His fascination of the Unseen City and its mysterious past, with the name ‘Weep’ taking the place of a stolen name, features in his several unpublished, and unread books. With the opportunity granted to take a magical journey to find Weep’s secrets, Laslo’s world soon collides with Sarai’s, a young godspawn who is living incognito at the Citadel in Weep.

Now, I don’t want to spoil this treasure for anyone, so I am not going to talk about the plot. What is most striking in this novel is the incredible prose. I was expecting a YA novel, and was given a book that is so much more than that. The switching of narratives between Lazlo and Sarai adds such an intense perspective to the novel, much increasing when they meet for the first time. Remarkably lyrical writing creates a beautifully whimsical aspect to the story yet each sentence could quite simply stand on its own, and seemingly purple prose in this novel has a purpose. Complex characterisations enhance the poetical directions of the storyline; each character is so complete and full of life that you almost can’t decipher between dream and reality.

I am anticipating the release of the sequel, however this book can definitely stand alone. The novel is emotional, cathartic and overall fascinating once you are emerged in Taylor’s prose. She takes you on a journey leaving you with a sense of wonder. Strange the Dreamer is funny and heartbreaking and wonderful, and I couldn’t ask for anything more in a book.