I haven’t read The Goldfinch. Everybody else has. Much as I enjoyed The Secret History (snobbish classics majors as anti-heroes), her second novel, The Little Friend, made no impression, and I have no interest in The Goldfinch, her “Dickensian” best-seller. When I read something long, I like it actually to be Dickens.
I’m always reading Dickens.
But I am not surprised that The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer.
A few years ago, after the VIDA Count statistics proved the dearth of women’s books reviewed in book publications, journalists kept asking, Why doesn’t The New York Times promote great women writers? Who is the American female Jonathan Franzen? Who are the great women writers? And so it was decided that Tartt was Franzen’s equivalent–they’re both brilliant, both popular and both write a novel every 10 years.
Hell, Tartt even wears a man’s suit. What’s with the suit? Is she on the way to a butch lesbian dance in the 1950s? Or is it a statement about something I can’t even imagine?
The pre-publication hype for The Goldfinch was incredible.
Some of Tartt’s most zealous fans belong to what I call my “opposite” numbers. Ron Charles, excellent critic and deputy editor of the Washington Post Book World, called it “a rare treasure,” and the popular blogger Dovegreyreader said that she became the mother of Theo, the hero. Although I enjoy their reviews and musings, their tastes rarely coincide with mine. I read Ron and Dovegrey for their voices, not their judgment.
The Pulitzer for fiction is often a safe award. It is often awarded to classics, but they are usually very traditional books. Our dull English major relatives read the Pulitzer winners. They may dismiss the brilliant PEN/Faulkner Prize-winning novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, as “just too weird,” but they are always comfortable with the Pulitzer.
Remember in 2012 when the Pulitzer board decided not to award the prize for fiction? The board disliked the three books recommended by the fiction committee; they decided no book deserved the prize. Did that strike you as just a little bit crazy? If they didn’t like those three books, couldn’t they find a book they did like? (Or was it not about the books at all, but about blacklisting somebody on the fiction committee? Or have I been reading too many mysteries?)
Now that The Goldfinch has won the Pulitzer, will it go on to win the prizes in the UK?
It is shortlisted for the Bailey Women’s Prize. And we still have the Man Booker Prize award ahead.
If a book is over-hyped, I wait at least two or three years before I read it. Perhaps The Goldfinch will turn out to be one of my favorites, but I won’t know till 2016.