Welcome to this fortnight’s Fargate From The Madding Crowd, your book club from the Sheffield Telegraph. I hope you’ve been limbering up for this behemoth of a read of the fortnight.
And we feature a great Sheffield bookshop in Literary City. I also get a real challenge in Reyt As Rain Reads today, as I have to prescribe two lovely, happy books that don’t involve any horrible murder.
Please do get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @AnnaCaig with your contributions for any of these sections, or with a reader review of The Goldfinch. I would love to know what you think.
Read of the fortnight:
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
At nearly 800 pages, The Goldfinch is an absolute beast of a book.
It is probably most famous for winning a Pulizter Prize for fiction, and being notoriously hard to finish.
I can understand people not making it to the end.
It is not just the intimidating length; it does often feel sloppily edited.
But it would be a terrible shame not to reach the final 200 pages in particular, as they are superb.
This is essentially a coming -of-age story.
Our protagonist, Theo, loses his mother in a bomb attack on an art gallery when he is a teenager.
In this defining moment, Theo replaces the presence of his mother in his life with a painting of a goldfinch.
But the Fabritius painting of the title spends much of the story hidden, and for long sections unmentioned.
This is really the story of a young man destroyed by the death of his mother, and his long search to find the kind of belonging and happiness that he took for granted when he was with her.
The painting is a small, bright and beautiful thing that gives him great comfort despite being out of sight – maybe in the same way as a mother’s love is for the lucky ones among us, as we grow up and make our way in the world.
But because Theo is made so vulnerable by his mother’s death (the descriptions of his grief are heartbreaking), and in the absence of any other real security, there is a transubstantiation of his mother’s love into the painting.
He goes to increasingly desperate lengths to keep it in his possession, and therefore by necessity has to keep it hidden away.
Tartt has an incredible gift for characterisation.
The world of The Goldfinch is populated by real and believable people.
She brings out our nuanced, flawed, selfish and frustrating natures, and there isn’t a cliché in sight.
The star of the show, in this book of outstanding characters, is Theo’s best friend: the mad, destructive Boris.
Despite being damaged and untrustworthy, he lights up every page he is on.
I spent a lot of the book thinking about that great Elmore Leonard advice on writing: ‘Leave out the parts that readers tend to skip’.
And I can’t help thinking a Donna Tartt book edited by Elmore Leonard would have been half as long, and a truly brilliant thing.
Literary City: The Sheffield Connection
Books on the Park is an independent bookshop on Ecclesall Road, selling primarily secondhand titles. It has been in its current location for five years, having moved from smaller premises in 2012.
The shop hosts an eclectic mix of secondhand books and music, including vintage vinyl, limited edition silk screen posters and prints, and paintings by local artists.
The shop specialises in local history books in particular.
But there is plenty here to satisfy a wide range of tastes from history in general, to music and art, architecture and photography, poetry and drama, as well as a good selection of fiction.
Owner of Books On The Park, David Granville says: “We try to stock plenty to suit all tastes from natural history, archaeology, film, theology, travel, philosophy, mathematics, science, esoteric, antiquarian and more ‘ologies’ than you can shake a stick at.
“But It’s not just ‘highbrow’ stuff either. We have a big humour section and a good selection of science fiction as well as fantasy and crime and thriller titles.
“The key is to have quality stock, whatever it is, and in providing a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, which we certainly aim to do.
“It’s not easy keeping small independent bookshops like ours going in an era of ferocious competition from the internet and charity shops. “Many big towns and cities have lost theirs over the last decade but, as we saw with the campaign to save Rare and Racy on Division Street, the city’s secondhand bookshops remain highly valued by book and music lovers across the city.”
Reyt as Rain Reads
Marie says: We have had a few difficult years of trying for a second child to complete our family, consequently leading to IVF.
During this time, reading has sadly taken a back seat in my life. I am thrilled that I am now in my third trimester of pregnancy, and all is well.
I feel like I can finally pick up a book again. The problem is, I don’t have a clue where to start. Can you help?
Anna says: Huge congratulations on your pregnancy, but what a heartbreaking and anxious time you must have had while trying to conceive.
I want to prescribe lovely, happy books to help you relax, and keep things positive as you get ready for the new arrival.
I know frequent readers of these pages will realise this presents a challenge for me, as most of the books I love involve horrible murders, or at least some pretty stressful adventure!
My first choice for you is something I would recommend to anyone about to have a baby. This book contains better advice and inspiration than any of the hundreds of tomes available on the ‘parenting’ shelves these days.
Danny The Champion Of The World is my favourite of all Roald Dahl’s books.
Which is saying something, as in my view he is a literary genius. Unlike many of his books, this one contains nothing supernatural.
But everything is magic. And that is down to Danny’s dad and his ability to make life an adventure.
I always thought if I could be half the parent that Danny’s father is in this story, then I will be doing okay
Plus the book is beautifully episodic, making it perfect for a snatched nocturnal chapter or two if you need something to read during sleepless nights.
My second choice for you is another of my personal favourites from a literary great.
Persuasion is the best Jane Austen in my view because it feels the most real, while still maintaining that trademark light touch.
Like you, our hero Anne Elliot has been through a difficult time; her life has not all been smooth sailing.
She is unusual for Austen protagonists in that she has already reached the grand old age of 27.
And we join Anne as she is given the possibility of a second chance at happiness.
Persuasion is a beautifully funny book, and Anne is a likeable main character who manages to avoid the Austen pitfalls of being either spoiled and irritating, or insipid and irritating.
She will be good company for you at this stage in your pregnancy.
Phew! I managed to think of two whole lovely books.
I hope you enjoy them, and good luck with the new baby.
But next fortnight someone needs to ask for something revolting again, or I will run out of ideas.