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. (synopsis from Goodreads)
From the very beginning of the book, I was drawn in to Tartt’s style of writing. I found myself getting lost in her sentences in the best way possible and marveling at how easy she makes it seem to write so eloquently. Rather than the forced demonstrations of lyrical writing, Tartt’s prose feel natural and easy, making it hard to break out of the trance this book puts on you.
We get to follow Theo from the day that changed his life forever to his adulthood, all the way watching as he struggles to figure out who he is and what kind of person he wants to be. While Theo turns out to be not the most likable person, we still find ourselves hoping that he will find a balance in his life that will finally give him the peace that he has been looking for throughout most of his young life. We see where he comes from and, because of this, we understand where he ends up. This is what really kept me engrossed in the book. We get to watch someone grow into a real human being. Even though we see that Theo can show compassion for others and desires to do the right thing, he still suffers from very human flaws. He is not perfect, and that’s why he makes an engaging character. It most likely would have been a dull book had Theo come out of his rough childhood as a saint, or even as a totally disagreeable person. It’s his complexities that drive us to read on.
While I deeply admired Tartt’s ability to describe setting and emotions, I do feel that there were areas that needed to be parred down. I did find myself a few times saying, “Okay, I get it.” Granted, this didn’t surprise me considering the size of the book. It’s a pretty long read and it did take me a while to read through it. Not from lack of interest, but from the sure density of the text at times. I had to take breaks, but not in a bad way. They were the good contemplative breaks we take with good literature.
Overall, I thought this book was completely worth the time it took to read it and I would recommend it to anyone willing to put in the time and mind power to truly appreciate a work of art. If you’re looking for a fast read, this is certainly not the book for you. (Although I do know others who read this book very quickly because they couldn’t put it down.) But in the strictest sense of the term “fast read”, this is not one. However, it was one of the best books I’ve read this year and it deserves the honors it has received.