The Goldfinch sucks

I must painfully confess that I'm a literary lemming.

But taking the word of others seems practical when you're busy and unable to find the leisurely time to discover stuff on your own, much less afford the luxury of wasted hours spent on something that turns out to be a dud.

The Goldfinch is not a dud by any stretch of imagination- Pulitzer prize, National Book Critics Circle Award shortlist, the requisite movie rights as bought by Warner Brothers- but to me it is, because as every book-lover knows, a book's true success is how it's able to move and change you. And I don't think I'm even going to finish it (a waste of $12 on Amazon).

When I started on it a few weeks back, I couldn't seem to get hooked. I blamed the stress of the last few weeks and the creativity sapping pace of work projects that left me unable to relax and focus on anything else other than sleep and well, Pokemon Go.

But things have been settling down and the other night, I had everything done by the ungodly early hour of 8pm and suddenly, I was craving for words rather than television (though The Real Housewives of Auckland is proving to be quite compelling). So I went back into The Goldfinch and then it dawned on me, 10% in, that the prose seemed weirdly simplistic. 

It's my bias sure, but I don't mind the occasional spare prose- I think I would kill myself if every book I read was in the style of John Updike for one thing- but the expectations I had of The Goldfinch were totally way off from what I was reading and it wasn't just the writing- the tone, the characters and the pace of storytelling were not what I expected.

And maybe that's my problem, not the books'. Maybe it's worth our while not getting carried away by gushing reviews and social media. When I finally closed the Kindle and went on to Google the book to further investigate, ultimately discovering a whole bunch of eminent literary critics and arbiters who shared in my opinions of the book, it felt like little comfort.

I'm neither a critic nor a writer (sigh, not yet). While I applaud Francine Prose's defence of her criticism of the book in her controversial Harper's essay “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read,” when she argued that holding up weak books as examples of excellence promotes mediocrity and turns young readers off forever, my only sole concern is, 'how do I get my money back?'

What worries me is that people who read only one or two books a year will plunk down their money for The Goldfinch, and read it, and tell themselves they like it, but deep down will be profoundly bored, because they aren’t children, and will quietly give up on the whole enterprise when, in fact, fiction—realistic fiction, old or new—is as alive and gripping as it’s ever been
— Lorin Stein, editor The Paris Review