I absolutely loved this book. Certainly, as many reviewers have pointed out, there is a modern Oliver Twist aspect to it, the orphaned boy falling in with a bad lot. But that alone can’t explain the compulsion to turn page after page, breathless for the next part of the journey. I’m not sure what it is about the writing that takes you places that are both very familiar and completely alien to your experience, in a seamless and entirely plausible fashion.
The crimes described, petty and less so, left me thoughtful. What’s good and bad? “more sinned against than sinning”. These were the thoughts visiting me as the hero (Theo) grappled with, or indeed just let happen some of the stuff that happened, together with the stuff he was answerable for.
And yes, I’d queue up like a shot to go and see The Goldfinch, the picture by Dutch Old Master Fabritius, if it was being shown near me. Curators are apparently worried about the effect the sudden popularity induced by the book is having on the fabric of the painting but I say after what it’s been through with Theo… Oh, hang on, that’s just a story, it didn’t really happen, did I say how believable the book was?
Another point of comparison with Dickens, as well as the rough plot, is the wonderful characterisation. We shake our head at Boris, sigh in sympathy with Andy, root for Pippa, are grateful to Hobie and a bit puzzled about Kitsey. And we’re with Theo, every step of the way, wherever that may take us.
A fantastic book, but there’s a but for me: the ending. There’s a great expression in French for what I mean : “je suis restée sur ma faim”. An accurate but flat translation would be “I didn’t feel completely satisfied”. The more literal rendering “I was still hungry” would be much better here. I was hungry for more, more thought provoking but effortlessly told Big Dilemmas, more crazy, zany, maddening, imperfect, lovely characters, more drifting through stuff happening, through relationships, through life. I can’t pinpoint it more accurately than that. I have no problem with the actual way the book ended, in terms of action completion or the morals of it or whatever. Maybe it was just too early an ending after such a great ride. Maybe it’s just that the ride ended.