I loved Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I found it in a charity shop, when I was an impoverished student, and brand new books were an unimaginable luxury. I had hankered after it even though I only had a vague idea what it was about. I knew it was regarded as intellectual and a good read, and that was enough for me.
It felt like a lot of the school stories I had left behind in childhood, not too long before. The group of students, discovering the world, with their sometimes brash, sometimes insecure personalities, thinking that they knew all about the world, as young people sometimes do. But it quickly became something darker and more riveting. Intellectualism went out of the window as the Greek references all passed over my head. I was too busy with the excitement of the story to notice.
It was also long. And when it came out, I saw that The Goldfinch was also long, over 800 pages (OMG just proof read and originally I wrote “words”! If only a bestselling novel were that easy to write). And much as I liked The Secret History, I have a pile of 11 books waiting for me, two of which are Anna Karenina and In Search of Lost Time.
I like to think that I know my limits.
I certainly know that I was delighted that such a hot new title was going to be Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime for the next two weeks. Time saving bargain of the century!
The first installment last night was just as riveting as I’d hoped. In this installment, thirteen year old Theo’s single-parent mother goes missing. The text follows his anxieties and his desires, but also plays on our adult knowledge of what Theo is poignantly innocent of; the dread of a child being drawn into “the system”, with no-one to be their advocate.
I was a bit worried as to whether I could really appreciate a whole long, complex book in a mere 10 x 15 minute chunks. For example, the much shorter (but arguably no less complex) Things Fall Apart was condensed down to the same number of slots. But so far the intensity of the story line has blown those worries out of my mind.
If you too want to save 800 pages of your life, the web page is here: