Most of the people who I know (from goodreads, of course) who have read this novel and have been disappointed with it say it’s because it was a mystery, and they didn’t like the way the author wrote about mystery, or they were expecting something else since it’s been held in the ~modern classic~ light.
I would like to address this by saying:
1) Mystery novels are just as worthy as the modern classic title as any other genre/non-genred novel. The genre/demographic of the book does not actually matter, what matters is the writing, how people connect and the story that is being told.
2) Donna Tartt’s writing style is one of the best I have ever read (I know this may not seem like a high accolade considering the amount of books I’ve read in comparison to someone who works at The NewYorker, but whatever).
3) Technically, this book *isn’t* a mystery.
The author gives away what a typical mystery novel would hold onto for the whole novel, at the beginning of the novel — before we even get to know any of the characters.
The very fact she keeps you engaged for the first 300-400 pages of this book shows what a skilful writer she is, as most writers would not be able to keep an audience engaged waiting for a murder to happen while knowing who it’s going to be, along with the aftermath of finding out who did it.
The book is set in three parts: ‘Book One,’ ‘Book Two,’ and ‘Epilogue.’ I found ‘Book One’ to be the most enjoyable out of all of them, as I really loved being introduced to this new, weird world of College, being in the mind of Richard Papen, and watching his mental state (kind of?) decline as the novel progresses. It was also really interesting to experience both sides of being outside of the Greek/Classic/Literary snob group and being inside at the same time, as it suggests perspectives and the role this plays in relationships, something which continued throughout the novel with Richard going back to that Californian girl (forgot her name) and her friends, getting some more realistic opinions and reminding readers that these characters are really weird and odd and unordinary and it just makes it more wonderful.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to know someone like Henry and Bunny, but, c’mon these characters are so rich and multi-faceted and holding so much depth it’s ridiculous to deny you don’t love them sheerly for this fact. This also reminds me that loads of people are calling these characters ‘pretentious,’ but I personally don’t think they are.
I’ve been stalking Matt Zoller Seitz’s Twitter recently, and he’s been having discussions about filmmakers constantly being called pretentious purely for the fact they care about their work. He also talked about how the person saying this stems from the fact they don’t understand and can’t grasp the concept of what the director is doing. I think the same thing can be applied to the characters in this novel, as they are hard characters to understand and their motives are quite ambiguous, but it’s so obvious Donna Tartt is doing this all on purpose because she is working her readers to understand the novel. This isn’t a book that’s just meant to be ‘read.’ It’s supposed to be thought about and discussed and re-read.
The only criticism I have of this novel is that I found chapters 7 and the beginning of 8 a bit boring, but in the grand scheme of things they were necessary for the novel and added to the characters’ richness.
There a million other things I could say about this novel, but I would just go on and on and on and on, so I’ll leave you with two things:
1) Thank you, Donna Tartt, for writing this book.
2) Read. This. Book.