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at moments I could easily give this a full score
on 11 September 2016
This novel has left me with very mixed feelings; at moments I could easily give this a full score, at other times due to what I consider to be some glaring flaws I want to give it a distinctly average 3 stars.
(Edit: I've just knocked it down to a 3, after trying to discuss this with a friend yesterday I found after only reading it mere months ago I could remember very little character detail but did remember pages and pages of Greek history that have next to no part to do with the actual story, never a good sign!)
As always I find it easier to write about what I dislike about a book, and I have plenty of little niggling things here.
Actually my first one isn’t small or niggling at all; it’s pretty big and has bothered me from about halfway. I’ve already discussed it with my GR friend who has (unintentionally) been the biggest reason I got around to reading this now as it’s her favourite book and I respect her opinion, and that’s the drug use in this book. I don’t mean that in a prissy, drugs are bad way, but firstly how they are introduced to the major players of the novel. On 40% (reading on a kindle so I can be absurdly accurate!) we find Richard, our narrator, sitting in a car with known drug user Judy, happily taking coke while spying on Henry. No big deal, had it been setup, but (at least to me) there was no sign that Richard had even accidental passive smoking of weed up to this point, it really threw me on how I had been perceiving the main character for the last 200 pages or so.
Now I’m not prudish with drugs, never been a user myself but have been around them in my time like most would have been. But I went to a University with a student base of around 34,000, and as everyone does I went to parties and gigs, But not once did I stumble upon students using meth, so I’m meant to believe that pretty much every student at the tiny fictional Hampden are happy to take hard drugs like they are candy? Maybe I’m just ignorant of 80’s America drug use, but every time drugs were mentioned it just didn’t ring true for me.
Now I’ve got that rant out of the way other things that bothered me were that the second half of the book simply isn’t as engrossing as the first, it’s far from bad, but after how great the first part was it seems a bit deflated, and the part where everyone is at the Corcoran’s is very sluggish, but luckily it’s short.
And oh oh oh Donna, why mention the Bacchanal so little! Yes it’s probably intentional, making you want to read the rest of the novel just in case, but really?! You take potentially the most interesting single piece and it gets about two further mentions in the book, never in any detail at all. It works as it is, but I defy anyone who loved this book not to be aching to know more about what happened that night.
I’m going to stop there because even to myself I’m currently wondering how I gave it 4 stars. But it’s pretty simple really, it’s so damn readable. Ignore the absurd drug use; ignore the pretty unbelievable characters that even in a 550 page novel you never really learn enough about; ignore that every male (including her twin brother!) seems to be in love with the female who doesn’t seem to actually have one good thing going for her; ignore that the whole novel is pretty contrived and it seems impossible for Richard to stumble upon exactly the next piece of information he needs at exactly the right time. After all that; most of which you only discover upon completion of the book, you’ve got a superbly written, page turning mystery (reverse-mystery? I have no idea if there is a correct term for what this book is). I was genuinely gripped for reasons I almost can’t put my finger on beyond the quality of Tartts’ writing and needing to know how the players in this quintessential modern times Greek tragedy turned out.