The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I was unsure about this one. At 773 pages it would the biggest book I’d read in quite a while, and I’d heard it bigged up as a literary masterpiece. Could I fit that into my schedule and give it enough time for it to have a proper chance? Then I spontaneously borrowed the audiobook from the library, listened to it on my commute (around 55 minutes each way in the car) and quickly became addicted.
It follows Theo Decker whose mother dies when he is 13 in a traumatic terrorist attack in a New York museum from which he escapes with a famous and valuable piece of art. What follows next is a winding road over 13 years from the high society of New York, the desolate and empty new-build streets of Las Vegas where Theo first becomes caught up with alcohol and drugs, back to New York for a lesson in antique furniture dealing, and then onto snowy Amsterdam at Christmas. During all this time the painting is at the forefront of Theo’s mind and the whole is just wonderfully constructed.
The reason 773 pages flies by is the way the plot moves through these grand stages in Theo’s life, and the attention to detail anchoring the sweeping storyline. I won’t say any more so the book can be discovered relatively untouched, but for anyone unsure I would recommend giving it a big chance.
In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
This follows Nora who is invited to her childhood best friend’s hen do after they had no contact for 10 years. She had fled after a bad event at age 16 and never looked back. But the hen do is at a strange glass cottage in the middle of the woods, and there’s no way it’s going to end well…
I was invested pretty early on, but from about halfway through I just raced through as I could barely put it down. In fact, my whole Bank Holiday Monday morning was just reading this book. There’s a small cast of characters cooped up together which means you get to get to know them all well and develop theories about their innocence or guilt at various points. The structure helps build the tension, as the reader flicks between Nora in hospital trying to piece together her memories, and the events themselves. It becomes truly intense and creepy at times. It’s just a shame about the ending which lets it down sadly, with the explanation and reasoning behind everything. At least we can enjoy the ride.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Aziz Ansari is a fantastic comedian, sharp and frenetic in his stand-up and shows like Parks and Recreation. There’s a small amount of that in this non-fiction book about dating in the modern world, but there could be more.
Ansari worked with a sociologist to delve into the reasons behind the transformation in romantic habits from past generations to now, mostly to do with technology, but I don’t think they found anything groundbreaking enough to feel the journey is worthwhile. There are some laughs along the way, but not enough of Ansari’s unique voice shines through.
Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff
I adored Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now as a teenager but Jonathan Unleashed is her first adult novel so I didn’t know what to expect. It follows ad writer Jonathan while he’s looking after his brother’s two dogs for a while and simultaneously deals with his overbearing girlfriend who coerces him into a wedding that will be livestreamed online for her bridal magazine. It’s safe to say he’s struggling to cope with life.
I read the book in just three days – it is funny and touching in equal measure as it deals with mental health and just generally becoming a ‘proper adult’ in a big city. What made it for me was the dogs and they way they become characters, friends and motivated beings in their own right. That’s such an unusual way to deal with a main character and it frames Jonathan in a fun way that makes you want to see what they’ll all get up to next.