Hmmmm, like smelling a cookie straight out of the oven, reading these legendary first sentences bring two things with them:

Joy from the act itself and excitement at what is to come.


1. Augusten Burroughs, Sellevision 

“You exposed your penis on national television, Max.”


2. J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.


3. Paul Auster, City of Glass

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.


4. Felipe Alfau, Chromos 

The moment one learns English, complications set in.


5. David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress

In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.


6. Donna Tartt, The Secret History

The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.


7. Lynda Barry, Cruddy

Dear Anyone Who Finds This, Do not blame the drugs.


8. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Someone Has Been Disarranging These Roses

Since it’s Sunday and it’s stopped raining, I think I’ll take a bouquet of roses to my grave.


9. Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, bird

Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy.


10.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Intricate, intelligent and incredibly long; I bring to you the Goldfinch, renowned novel and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014.


Set in the modern world, this novel follows Theodore Decker throughout his life, starting with the time as a teenager he survived a terrorist attack at an art gallery, but his mother did not. This  incident shapes the rest of the plot, and Theo’s character rapidly morphs into a miserable one as he, still a minor, is tossed from guardian to guardian, all the time guarding a secret. When he walked out of the gallery, he did not leave empty handed. Instead, he brought with him a masterpiece, the Goldfinch, and as Theo travels the country, the painting follows him. Until the aftermath of the attack has been cleared away, and people start to look for the priceless piece of art. Suddenly Theodore has a multitude of options, and things start to spiral out of everyone’s control.

Overall this was masterfully written, and I admire Tartt because she has created an admirable plot with extraordinary characters, written with the utmost of style, whilst still remaining quite realistic. This is harder to achieve than one initially anticipate; this is probably why she has been showered with awards. However, the Goldfinch is long. At first I leapt into it with an eager mind, but one’s level of commitment dwindles slightly by page 400, and by the time you’re 600+ you just want the book to finish. It has 864 pages, and by the end I was feeling every single one. The issue was, there is a section where Theo lives with his father in Vegas, and it drags on forever. It’s meant to signify I suppose the extent of the neglect that Theo faced, but that doesn’t mean I have to suffer through all those incidents too. That sections was simply unforgivingly slow paced and dull. Honestly, half of the book is about Theo taking various types of drugs and getting drunk: fine, show how his once ordinary life descended into addiction, but does the reader really need to witness every single shot glass he took to grapple with the idea? Clearly Tartt and I have contrasting views on this.

Also, the style of writing here is remarkable. Every page is crammed full of devices, (but not so that you’re just wading through metaphors and similes, trying to decipher a plot,) and it results in a clear idea of the shape of the scene. Having said it, it’s striking because whilst Tartt is so diligent with imagery on the one hand, at other times, she ‘tells’ the reader what is happening. Often, Tartt would just toss in; ‘Theo looked embarrassed’, or ‘Andy was angry’. Were they really? Can you see it on their faces, or is it they way they wring their hands? I thought this was irritating because Tartt is a gifted writer, and she could obviously describe their emotions, but chose not to.

The plot is interesting, but it is slow. Awfully slow- at times it was like running through knee-deep sand. You’re putting in so much time and effort to get somewhere (to the action in this case) but you remain rooted in the three page long description of a tea cup. To add to that, the climax is shoved into a very short space of time at the end, so it’s hardly like the action snowballs. It’s strange, because there is an in explicable wasteland of everyday actions; hundreds of pages dedicated to Theo going to school, Theo eating Chinese, Theo eating at a friend’s house, Theo walking his dog. All rather scintillating in its execution but ultimately unengaging stuff, and then suddenly there’s death and crime and blood everywhere. The Goldfinch would be multitudes better if it was 400 pages shorter.

I would recommend The Goldfinch to anyone who has lots of time. It is a great novel, but it has flaws too, one main one being it’s unnecessary length, so you will have to sacrifice a lot of time to get even vaguely close to finishing it in a reasonable amount of time. Other than that, it does explore large themes (like ‘why be good’ and ‘is there fate’) and contains some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read.

Have you ever read The Goldfinch; what are your thoughts on it? Or, have you ever read another Pulitzer Prize winner- what did you think of it? What are your favourite books concerning the topic of art? Do comment below and let me know you’re thoughts.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt 

An astounding début novel that delves beyond the cliché college drama into a much darker, sinister reflection on life of those lounging in the exclusive corners of society.

Richard starts studying at Hampden college and on a whim, suddenly changes his degree to Classics. Soon he is accepted into an eccentric and elite group that seem, for their unbelievable intelligence, completely oblivious to contemporary life. Before long Richard’s life is tangled with that of his newly made friends, a diverse and bizarre group, whom he seeks to understand. Yet the façade slowly gets worn down and whilst he’s enjoying an ordinary life, soon he realises that he is being plunged into a profoundly different world.

This is an incredible novel; firstly the meticulous level of detail applied to the plot stands out. Each character, sentence, sub-plot has been applied into the novel with such a pedantic level of care yet it does not draw any attention away from the powerful and compelling plot. This novel is undoubtedly a thriller; but that does mean everything happens at hyper speed. Despite the plot occasionally drifting along a river of tension, it was as equally compelling as when the most important action happened. This is not because of ill-use of writing techniques; Tartt manipulated language so that even when the pace is slow (predominately the first bit of the novel) it is still interesting to read. However, this was not achieved through the use of hyperbole but because of the reader’s care for the quirky characters.
I love the characters that are in the novel; they are far from the bland, dull eyed students that plod through the ink of many college novels today. It took Tartt 8 years to write this novel; it is clear that a portion of this went into painstaking character history. There is a shrouded history for each person, and it is only rarely that we can peer through the smoke and grab the meagre pieces of information given to us. Enough to survive on, but I’m always wanting more.

Do not be put off by the number of pages; it is worth the commitment. I think you will be hard pressed to find another thriller quite like this; it’s in a league of it’s own.