Friday, May 30, 2014
“Both places were close to sea level, with estuaries where fresh and salt water combined. As Tollygunge, in a previous era, had been flooded by the sea, all of Rhode Island, he learned, had once been covered with sheets of ice. The advance and retreat of glaciers, spreading and melting over New England, had shifted with bedrock and soil, leaving great trails of debris. They had created marshes and the bay, dunes and moraines. They had shaped the current shore.
He found a room in a white wooden house, close to the main road of the village, with black shutters flanking the windows. The shutters were decorative, never opening or closing as they did throughout the day in Calcutta, to keep the rooms cool or dry, to block rain or let in a breeze or adjust the light.” Page 35
If geography is destiny then it would be safe to say that Jhumpa Lahiri’s path has been transcendent.
Reading is a rare privilege.
After having spent the past two weeks in the company of a master, I feel as if my life has now changed forever. After reading a book like The Goldfinch, one doesn’t emerge unscathed.The characters remain, concern for them lingers, and the settings have left an indelible imprint.
Donna Tartt’s latest work encompasses a world unto itself. The tale of a young man enduring- post traumatic stress, the loss of his mother, an obsession with a painting, and uncertain care- had me enthralled from start to finish. Thrown to the winds of fate, Theo Decker is lucky to find one very good and kind man who becomes his guiding light.
By the grace of God, there are writers who have the ability to take the reader by the hand and lead them into the doorway of a world so perfectly described that it ceases to exist in the imagination: it becomes real. Dickens could have written this book; the characters could have been drawn by him as they are that fine.
As it turns out, I am not the only reader to come up with this assessment. While browsing on Goodreads, I was surprised to find that Stephen King chimed in:
” Theo Decker’s mother is killed in a bombing that rocks the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Theo, unharmed, escapes with a valuable painting called The Goldfinch. He carries this symbol of grief and loss from early adolescence into an adulthood fraught with danger and beset by addiction. The long middle sequence, set in a housing development on the seedy, sand-blown outskirts of Las Vegas, is a standout. Tartt proves that the Dickensian novel—expansive and bursting with incident—is alive and well.”
Years ago, our book club read Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, and then the second, The Little Friend and now surely the best book I have read in 2014, The Goldfinch. As in Girl With A Pearl Earring, a painting is a central theme. The work by Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrant’s, is beautifully and exquisitely described, and is the thread that pulls us through from start to finish. Depicted is a dear little finch, chained to a perch, sad, and hopeful at once; it is a simple and elegant, much loved painting that has enthralled art lovers and critics for centuries. Tartt describes the masterpiece as one that appeals to children.
Carel Fabritius 1622-1654
If you long to read a book that sweeps you away and becomes an experience, if you love antiques, New York, fine painting, and beautiful writing, you will be captured by this novel. As winter drags on, curl up, and treat yourself to some deep thinking as you become taken up with The Goldfinch.
The Nobel Prize in Literature, for 2013, went to Canadian writer, Alice Munro. Rewarded for a staggering body of work, decades in the making, she has been hailed as the master of the short story form.
Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, issued this statement:
“Canadians are enormously proud of this remarkable accomplishment which is the culmination of a lifetime of brilliant writing.”
Born on July 10, in 1931, Ms. Munro grew up in the southwestern Ontario, in the town of Wingham. Being familiar with the territory and the landscape, I read with awe the collection of her work entitled, Selected Stories. These pieces are not so much read, as they are stepped into. One can picture the characters perfectly, but if you try to work back and figure out how the author achieved such clarity, it becomes elusive. She says the constant happiness of any writer is curiosity.
From the story entitled, Chaddeleys and Flemings
“Connection. That was what it was all about. The cousins were a show in themselves, but they provided a connection. A connection with the real, and prodigal, and dangerous world. They knew how to get on in it, they had made it take notice. They could command a classroom, a maternity ward, the public; they knew how to deal with taxi drivers and train conductors.
The other connection they provided, and my mother provided as well, was to England and history. It is a fact that Canadians of Scottish-which in Huron county we called Scotch-and Irish descent will tell you quite freely that their ancestors came out during the potato famine, with only the rags on their backs, or they were shepherds, agricultural laborers, poor landless people. But anyone whose ancestors came from England will have some story of black sheep, or younger sons, financial reverses, lost inheritances, elopements with unsuitable partners. There may be some such truth in this; conditions in Scotland and Ireland were such as to force wholesale emigration, while Englishmen may have chosen to leave home for more colorful, personal reasons.
This was the case with the Chaddeley family, my mother’s family” page 215
So, you see, the stage is set.
Peter England, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said that Ms. Munro is capable of a “fantastic portrayal of human beings.”
Contributing writer to the New York Times, Julie Bosman chose this passage from Too Much Happiness:
“‘Always remember that when a man goes out of the room, he leaves everything in it behind,’ her friend Marie Mendelson told her. “When a woman goes out she carries everything that happened in the room along with her.”
It is passages such as these that leave us impressed. We are almost daunted by them. They fall into the ‘why did I not think of that before,’ category. It is like looking at a clever new invention and wondering why on earth you did not come up with that idea. Alice Munro’s style has always struck me as original. Does it reside in the now recognizable niche of topnotch Canadian fiction? Certainly. Will her stories stand the test of time? As well as Chekov’s have, I would venture to say. Will they be taught in Creative Writing classes? Yes. Will we be able to learn how to imitate them? No.
The form is not easy to write, nor is it the easiest to read. When done with skill, it makes every writer long to master the form, and every reader think it looks easy.
“He was still talking as I threw the Pyrex plate at his head.” Page 225