The Goldfinch


 Donna Tartt

First Sentence:     While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years.

Back of the book:

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014

Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

Quotes from the book:

But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.

‘Whenever she smiled at me Heaven blew in.’

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The Ginger Man

gingerJ.P. Donleavy:

First Sentence:     Today a rare sun of spring.

Back of the book:

Feckless, unwashed, charming, penurious Sebastian Balfe Dangerfield, Trinity College Law student, Irish American with an English Accent, maroon in the ould country and dreaming of dollars and ready women, stumbles from the public house to the pawnbrokers, murmuring delusive enticements in the ear of any girl who’ll listen, in delirious search of freedom, wealth, and the recognition he feels is his due. Lyrical and ribald, illuminating, poignant and hugely entertaining, The Ginger Man is a work of authentic comic genius.

Quotes from the book:

Cap set square to deceive beggars and his one eye, a wet gem seeking out the sign which pointed the road to the limbo of the living, the deep carpeted womb of the idle rich.

“Her hair lay athwart in clean strands on his body and for the next silent minute he was the sanest man on earth, bled of his seed, rid of his mind.”

‘Would you say Tone that there is no end to it? Would you say that now?’

‘Jesus I would and I haven’t even got a spare bullet for the gun.’

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Gregory David Roberts

First Sentence: It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.

That’s a long first sentence and I suppose it’s quite fitting because this is a long book. Based on the real life experiences of the author, and not an out-and-out autobiography as some people believe, this book is a novel based on one man’s life after his escape from an Australian prison. Arriving in India with a false passport, ‘Lin’ soon meets Prabaker, or Prabu, an irresistibly lovable local. It is when Lin and Prabaker go to visit his home village that Prabaker’s mother gives Lin the name Shantaram, which means ‘man of God’s peace’. After this brief visit to the countryside, the protagonist is thrown from one seemingly preposterous scenario to the next including; living in the slum and setting up a medical clinic, falling in love with Karla, being imprisoned and tortured for months on end, going to Goa with Karla and living peacefully, acting in Bollywood movies, fighting the war in Afghanistan and returning to India to become a drug lord. Phew! What annoyed me most about this book was that, after a while, I began to realise it would have made about seven better standalone books dealing with each of the different phases of his life. I found his observations on prison life to be quite compelling:

Patience and obsessional focus are the gems we mine in the tunnels of prison solitude.

Likewise, his relationship with Prabu was utterly engaging and I enjoyed his descriptions of him:

…rumbled and roared in a voice that he’d found in a bear’s cave, and cured in the barrel of a rusted cannon.

I just felt that this quality, which appeared only fleetingly, was not sustainable for the entire book, and it suffered as a result. One for young, impressionable backpackers perhaps. Enjoyable nonetheless.

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