Tartt, Thirkell and Sigurdardottir

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown and Company, 2013) – There’s not much to say about The Goldfinch that hasn’t already been said, but I can tell you that it is a book full of ups and downs, highs (literally) and lows that completely entraps the reader with its mesmerizing, epic story. At nearly 800 pages, this novel maintains quite a slow pace yet the writing is so bewitching that I would categorize it as a ‘fast read’. It tells the story of Theo Decker who as a young boy becomes, through tragic circumstances, the caretaker of a Dutch masterpiece, The Goldfinch, painted by Carel Fabritius. We follow Theo through his adolescence and early adulthood as he struggles with creating a place for himself in the world and with his intense fear that he’ll be discovered with the painting. Memorable characters (especially his friend Boris) tantalize and distract, but, for me, this novel was always about the painting and about the human need to create and to appreciate beautiful art. I enjoyed this novel immensely, but I’m afraid I didn’t love it. However, I do believe that it is a story that will stay with me for years to come.

High Rising by Angela Thirkell (VMC, 1933) – And now for a novel that is about as far from The Goldfinch as you can get. I’ve only known about Angela Thirkell for a few years now; I’d never heard of her before several bloggers started posting about her books. I bought the nice, colorful VMC edition of High Rising last year, but only decided to read it after I finished The Goldfinch and needed a little palate cleanser. It is the first book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, of which there are 29. The main character in this book is Laura Morland, a widow with four sons who, to pay the bills, writes popular formulaic novels set in the fashion world. Her three oldest sons are off exploring the world and her youngest son, Tony, is at school. The novel takes place during Tony’s breaks at their country home in High Rising and we follow along with the (mis)adventures, romantic entanglements and merriment of their friends and neighbors. The humor is first-rate, self-deprecating and silly. The novel is dominated by really witty dialogue – there aren’t many descriptions of the countryside or of the interiors, but the characters are vibrantly drawn. I think I had a perpetual smile on my face the entire time I was reading this and laughed aloud frequently. It’s just pure fun. I will definitely be reading more books by Angela Thirkell.

I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Minotuar Books, 2014) – I seem to have developed a taste for supernatural mysteries. I loved Blood Harvest by S.J. Bolton and The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, both of which have a similar feel to this book. When I saw this available as an eGalley I couldn’t resist its description as a mixture of crime fiction and ghost story. The novel is set in Iceland and has a dual narrative. Half of the book follows a psychiatrist named Freyr who is investigating a woman’s suicide while coping with his continuing grief after his son disappeared several years earlier. The second storyline is set on an island where three friends are renovating an old house during the tourist off-season. All of the characters start experiencing eerie sightings of a young boy and hearing malevolent voices. At first the two narratives feel very different, but as the novel progresses the strands start to combine until the stories collide in a spectacular way. The fright factor is very high here – it is terrifying, heart pounding, nightmare inducing creepiness. I tried not to read it at night, but I wanted to know how it ended so badly that I invariably found myself sneaking chapters before bed. If you like being scared, this is a must-read; if you don’t like being scared, I’d stay far away from this cleverly written mystery. It will be released in the US on March 25. 

More about these novels:

The Goldfinch at dovegreyreader scribbles

The Goldfinch at Harriet Devine

High Rising at Pining for the West

High Rising at Desperate Reader

I Remember You at Savidge Reads

I Remember You at Farm Lane Books

A salute to Angela Thirkell in the NYT.

24 comments / Add your comment below

  1. What a wonderfully rich, diverse assortment of books. I loved High Rising too, and I’m struggling with The Goldfinch (in the adolescent years) but reading your words of praise encourages me to keep going.

    1. The adolescent years of The Goldfinch were exhilarating yet frustrating. I really have a problem with all of the drug use in the book. Things do calm down after Theo becomes a young man.

  2. The Goldfinch and High Rising (or anything else by Angela Thirkell) are two of the books on my To Read list that I’m most looking forward to tackling. I love how you describe Thirkell’s work as a palate cleanser. It made me realize that that’s exactly how I’ve been treating Barbara Pym novels lately.

    1. Thirkell is similar to Pym except that Pym’s book are full of secret sadness and longing and Thirkell’s books are just entertainment. No one is taken seriously and that is wonderful sometimes.

  3. I am definitely NOT reading I Remember You! You were very brave to read it late at night – especially with cats in the house. I’m so happy that you enjoyed High Rising – you have so many wonderful books ahead in the series.

    1. I can’t resist being scared, though I hate it when I can’t sleep!
      I have a copy of Wild Strawberries on the shelf and am saving it for just the right time.

  4. I’m still trying to decide whether to read The Goldfinch, though I think I probably will eventually! And I really want to read High Rising soon – so many bloggers seem to love it.

    1. I think The Goldfinch is an essential read if you are interested in contemporary literature. It will be read for years to come. And definitely try High Rising – it is wonderful.

    1. I liked many parts of it, but it frustrated and annoyed me too. I can’t gush about it like some people did, but I’m glad I read it. You definitely have to be in the mood to read an epic novel.

  5. I don’t know whether I want to read The Goldfinch or not, I suppose my expectations would be too high. I like the sound of the Thirkell, though, it sounds exactly the sort of book you want a series of 30 to be like!

    1. The Goldfinch is a commitment so does take some thought as to whether you want to embark or not.
      The Barsetshire Chronicles take no thought whatsoever 🙂

  6. I’m so glad that you are enjoying Thirkell too. I think I will give The Goldfinch a miss though, too many pages apart from anything else.

    1. It took me two months to read The Goldfinch – I probably won’t read another long book for a while, though I’d like to get to The Luminaries sometime this year.

  7. I didn’t immediately love The Goldfinch, but I liked it quite a bit, and I bet I will end up loving it when I’ve reread it a time or two. I’ve loved The Secret History more and more with every reread. (And The Secret History didn’t even have Boris.)

    1. I read The Secret History early last year and felt mixed about that, too. It’s the drug use – I just have a problem with it. It makes me a bit ill to read about it and it bothered me in The Goldfinch as well. It’s a reading pet peeve for me.

  8. Such a coincidence, I am reading both The Goldfinch and HIgh Rising at the moment. Palate cleanser is a perfect description of High Rising. Also, such a cozy read. I am enjoying both books.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

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