The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt with Book Club Discussion Notes

Pulitzer Prize Winner 2014 for Fiction

This is Donna’s first book in eleven years, although previously scheduled for release in 2008, and her third award winning book. Early reviews from the US have praised the novel, with the trade publications Kirkus and Booklist both giving starred reviews. Kirkus describes The Goldfinch as “a standout”  while Booklist comments “Drenched in sensory detail, infused with Theo’s churning thoughts and feelings, sparked by nimble dialogue, and propelled by escalating cosmic angst and thriller action, Tartt’s trenchant, defiant, engrossing, and rocketing novel conducts a grand inquiry into the mystery and sorrow of survival, beauty and obsession, and the promise of art.” Stephen King has also admired the novel writing “Donna Tartt is an amazingly good writer … it’s very good”

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breath taking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

12 Point Book Club Discussion Notes

1. Donna Tartt has said that the Goldfinch painting was the “guiding spirit” of the book. How so—what do you think she meant? What—or what all—does the painting represent in the novel?

2. David Copperfield famously says in the first line of Dickens’s book,

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will beheld by anybody else, these pages must show.

Because of the many comparisons made between Dickens’s work and The Goldfinch, that same question could rightfully be asked by Theo Decker. What do you think—is Theo the “hero” of his own life? What, in fact, does it mean to be the “hero” of a novel?

3. Tartt has said that “reading’s no good unless it’s fun.”

The one quality I look for in books (and it’s very hard to find), but I love that childhood quality of gleeful, greedy reading, can’t-get-enough-of-it, what’s-happening-to-these-people, the breathless kind of turning of the pages. That’s what I want in a book.

In other words, a good book should propel readers from page to page, in part because they care about the characters. Has Tartt accomplished that in The Goldfinch? Did you find yourself rapidly turning the pages to find find out what happens to the characters? Does the story engage you? And do you care about the characters? If so, which ones?

4. How convincingly does Tartt write about Theo’s grief and his survival guilt? Talk about the ways Theo manifests the depth of his loss and his sense of desolation?

5. What do you think of Andy’s family: especially Andy himself and Mrs. Barbour? Are we meant to like the family? Is Mrs. Barbour pleased or resentful  about having to take Theo in. What about the family as it appears later in the book when Theo re-enters its life? Were you surprised at Mrs. Barbour’s reaction to seeing Theo again?

6. Talk about the ways in which the numerous adults at his school try—to no avail, as it turns out—to help Theo work through his grief. If you were one of the grown-ups in Theo’s life, what would you do or say differently to him. Is there anything that can be said?

7. Many reviewers have remarked on Boris as the most inventive and vividly portrayed character in the book. How do you feel? Are you as taken with him as both Theo and book reviewers are? Talk about his influence over Theo—was it for better for worse?

8. Readers are obviously meant to find Theo’s father negligent and irresponsible, a  reprobate. Are you able to identify any redeeming quality in him? What about his girlfriend?

9. Talk about Hobie and how Tartt uses his wood working and restoration as a symbol of his relationship to Theo. How does Theo disappoint him…and why? Theo fears he will, or already has, become like his father. Has he?

10. Tartt asks us to consider whether or not our world is orderly, whether events follow a pattern (which could indicate an underlying meaning), or whether everything that happens is simply random—like the explosion that killed Theo’s mother. What does Theo’s father believe…and what does Theo believe? Do Theo’s views by the end of the story?

11. The book also ponders beauty and art. Why is art so important to the human soul? What are its consolations…and what are its dangers? In what ways can we allow ourselves to be trapped by art or beauty? And HOW does this relate to the Goldfinch, the painting at the heart of this story— a painting of a bird chained to its perch and a painting that Theo clings to for 14 years.

12. What do you think the future holds for Theo? Why do you think Tartt left the book’s conclusion open as to whether he will end up with Pippa or Kitsy?

Words with an Author – Pedro Barrento – The Prince & The Singularity

Pedro staring at the Singularity

Pedro staring at the Singularity

 

The Prince and the Singularity – A Circular Tale is a take on the Creation myth, drawing from different religious and philosophical sources and mixing them in an original, challenging and often very funny way. It is written in a multi-layered format, allowing it to be read both as a simple and entertaining fable and as a deeply philosophical work, full of hidden references and satire.

It’s the story of the Prince aka the Master aka Francis, who is more or less immortal and goes through the millennia fighting Desire and Rejection, the roots of all unhappiness and evil. He always fails until the moment he loses interest and decides to die, which he doesn’t. Instead he gets promoted.

Pedro was born in Mozambique 51 years ago, attended English schools in Lisbon and pursued his education until finishing a degree in Law. When he was around 33, Pedro decided there’s more to life than being a lawyer and tried his hand at various business activities, the most successful of which was a company that produced and managed rock bands. A year ago he decided to pick up again a long-forgotten hobby of his: writing. He started with a blog, mainly dedicated to political satire. Encouraged by the feedback from the blog Pedro then decided to try his hand at a whole book, an effort which resulted in the creation of The Prince and the Singularity – A Circular Tale.

Tell us a little something about yourself as both a person and an author:

I’m a maverick, a loner and someone who loves to think about problems too complicated to ever have a solution. I also have very peculiar beliefs, as I do not believe in the existence of God but I believe in the existence of spiritual dimensions. It’s a very uncomfortable position to be in, because religious people consider me an atheist and atheists just consider me incoherent.

What made you decide to be a writer?

I always wrote short pieces, mainly about political satire, and I have a blog dedicated to that (mostly in Portuguese, though).

One of my satirical pieces, “The Euro Crisis Explained to Grannies”, has now been viewed almost 14.000 times, so I guess at least some people must like it.

I then started having ideas for longer and more complicated stories.

What made you pick this genre to write?

My book is cross genre. It’s a mix of literary fiction with shades of Pratchett humour over a New Age background. I should’ve picked a genre but unfortunately I didn’t, which makes marketing the thing an uphill struggle of Himalayan proportions.

Tell us a little about your latest book.

My idea was to write a book that would simultaneously:

a) be funny (both funny peculiar and funny ha-ha);

b) could be read as a simple story that anyone could understand and appreciate;

c) had several “hidden” layers below the basic story that different people could read differently, depending on their cultural and religious backgrounds;

d) would mix concepts from different religions and philosophies, in a thought-provoking way.

While writing the book, I toyed with the idea of creating three different self-contained stories that could be read in any order whatsoever and would make sense either individually or in connection with the other two, but that proved to be too difficult and I abandoned the concept. As a leftover of that idea, though, chapters 1 to 12 make up a self-contained story of their own.

The book is a reflection of the Great Fusion Era in which we live, where lifestyles, religions, beliefs and economic and political systems are fusing together, with the inherent social confusion and clashes between cultures.

We live in times where people feel insecure and troubled, but these are epic times, the transition between one era and the next one.

The book is a reflection of all that. It fuses concepts from different religions (which has been done before) and, more importantly, it fuses religion with atheism, an exercise most people would consider a logical impossibility.

How do you come up with your ideas?

You’re going to think I’m completely nuts, but I believe all books are already written, in some other dimension. Writers get their stories when they somehow connect to that other dimension. As no writer is capable of receiving a whole book, what happens is that they receive some parts and then fill in the missing parts with their mind. The more parts they “receive”, the better writers they are. The parts they “fill in” tend to be the weakest bits of their books.

That’s what happened with my book. I suddenly “saw” parts of the story, usually in situations where I was totally relaxed and thinking of nothing in particular, especially while swimming or driving a car.

I wrote down those parts, which came in a non-sequential way (Ch.1, Ch.2,  Ch. 12, then Ch.9, etc). The book has 27 chapters. In the end, I had big chunks of the book written down and I had some parts missing in several places in the middle. Those parts I wrote with my mind, just trying to connect what had been “received”, if you may call it that way.

I have very little hope that you’ll believe my version of how the book was written but I can assure you it’s the truth.

Also the writing process was very odd, because on top of being non-sequential, I started by writing a draft in Portuguese, then someone translated that draft into English, then I rewrote the English translation because I thought it had lost the right “feel”. Afterwards I finished writing the book in English, meaning that 30.000 words were written in Portuguese, translated, rewritten by me and then 14.500 words were added directly in English. I then had to translate the part that was written in English into my own language, which is a very odd situation.

Is there someone in particular you would like to thank for supporting you through this process?

Lynn Curtis (http://www.lynncurtis.co.uk/), my editor and literary consultant must come first and foremost. In fact, I believe that calling her a literary consultant is an offense. She is a living goddess, no less.

Teresa Frederico, the person who revised the Portuguese version is also someone who deserves a HUGE “thank you”, especially as she did it for free (well, I promised her untold riches if the book is successful). I’d also like to thank Sandro Marques for several suggestions made while I was writing the initial Portuguese draft. Fernanda Gil and Paula Soto Maior have also helped in the graphic department, with several sketches for covers which unfortunately ended up not being used.

Tell us one positive thing that has happened to you since you published your book(s).

People have finally stopped seeing me as a lawyer (which I hated) and now see me as a writer (which is a lot sexier)

Tell us one negative thing that has happened to you since you published your book(s).

I’ll tell you something that happened before I published the book.

I tested it extensively on several sites, especially on “authonomy.com” and I found out that writing a book which mixes sources from different cultures is a very delicate process. To my (probably naïve) astonishment, in the beginning, I was getting raving reviews from readers of Asian origin and very mixed reviews from American readers, which ranged from “great book” to “you’ll burn in hell”. I reached the conclusion that the “you’ll burn in hell” readers just weren’t understanding the book.

I then added a Prologue, to make the book easier to understand to readers less familiarised with some of the philosophies involved and after that I’m glad to say I’ve stopped receiving “hate mail”.

Give us your links to learn more about you and your book

The book is available both as a paper book and an ebook on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, etc., and all those sites allow you to read a sample.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Pedro+Barrento

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Pedro+Barrento

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/276675

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17348467-the-prince-and-the-singularity—a-circular-tale

SatinPaperbacks moves her personal library…

You’d think I was trying to move www.amazon.co.uk library and not my own at the size of the darn thing.. and why is it that spiders like my dusty old pages?  Oh yes, I have some very old books indeed that I love to roam in on a quiet day.

 

You can see it now, cross legged on the floor, coffee to my right and musty old tombs all around me.  I open one and a halo of dust blesses the next adventure we’re about to take.

 

That’s the dream when I think about moving my library.  The truth is a little different!  Me and my paper friends snuggle together tightly as I carry my treasured parcels from one room to another.  Me barely breathing, and I swear the books feel the same.  What if I carry too many and the pressure breaks an ancient leather spine? I’ve been known to weep at the sight of a beautiful spin broken and shattered in its cracked old skin.  And that’s only half the story, because the library shelves aren’t ready for them and so this is only half the journey.

 

And half the tale….

 

The Wall – William Sutcliffe

Hi there,

I was looking into a new book on www:amazon.co.uk that has come out called The Wall by William Sutcliffe, has anyone read it yet?  It’s a fascinating tale of a young boy who’s football goes over this wall.  The problem is that on the other side of that wall is a place that no one goes or never comes back from.  He climbs over the boundary wall to search for it and finds a flattened house that was once “the home of people from the other side” and, beside it, the entrance to a dark tunnel. Crawling through the tunnel, he emerges into a wholly unfamiliar world.

All well and good you might say, just another fantasy story, but no this is not the case. Although Sutcliffe doesn’t tell us that the boy, Joshua, is an Israeli or that the people on the other side of the wall are Palestinian. There are no shortage of markers to locate the knowing reader topographically or historically: the barren land and olive trees, the wall itself, with new pristine settlements on one side and crowded alleyways on the other.  Sutcliffe has set himself a challenge in writing this novel, which is “crossover” in two senses of the word – both YA and adult, aimed both at those who know and those who don’t. There are moments in the first half when he falls a little short of pulling off the feat of balancing a boy’s adventure tale – filled with chases and hiding places and journeys in the rat-filled dark – with the more introspective story of a young man coming to understand the world in which he lives. When Joshua returns home to Amarias for the first time, it’s hard – even for the adult reader – not to want the book to hurry up and send him back through the tunnel into the world of adventure again.

I find it fascinating that an author would take up such a tricky task of bringing a child through to a young man in a violent and unpredictable world. I admire him for his effort and applaud his achievement, is this something you would like to see soon?  Leave me a post and let me know what you think..?

A touching thought on the endurance of love by Rupert Brooke penned in Munich 27th February 1911

We have I am sure, all of us felt that once we have fallen in love that it may endure beyond all time and all ages.  In this modern day of quickie divorces and civil partnerships, Rupert Brookes reminds us that the reason we come together, to be with one another; is because of our belief in the Endurance of love; Purity that it  cannot be corroded and above all, Faith that when we fall in love, the choice made by our hearts wasn’t a wrong one.

Rupert’s life was full of hardship and heartbreak and here we can see the agony’s he felt before his breakdown in 1913 and early death in 1915.  It is worth taking a moment to linger..

I give you: Dead Men’s Love by Rupert Brooke penned Munich 27th February 1911

There was a damned successful Poet;
There was a Woman like the Sun.
And they were dead.  They did not know it,
They did not know their time was done.
They did not know his hymns
Were silence; and her limbs,
That had served Love so well,
Dust, and a filthy smell.
And so one day, as ever of old,
hands out, they hurried, knee to knee;
On fire to cling and kiss to hold
And, in the other’s eyes, to see
Each his own tiny face,
And in that long embrace
Feel lip and breast grow warm
To breast and lip and arm.
So knee to knee they sped again,
And laugh to laugh they ran, I’m told,
Across the streets of Hell …
And then
They suddenly felt the wind blow cold,
And knew, so closely pressed,
Chill air on lip and breast,
And, with a sick surprise,
The emptiness of eyes.

For all my #readers #bloggers #writers #authors.

Nicky Fitzmaurice
www.satinpaperbacks.com