Monday, February 9, 2015

Book Review: The Rosie Effect and The Goldfinch

Long time no blog! Those of you who know me personally know that 2014 was a hum dinger of a difficult year. And not just for me, it seemed like everyone I knew had more than their fair share of challenges. Coping with such a year meant letting a few things go and blogging was just one thing too many. But I’m back, blogging mojo recharged and ready to write.

This year I think Blithe Moments will become a bit more of a lifestyle blog. The odd recipe, a restaurant and movie review or two, maybe even some fashion thoughts. But I thought I would kick off with a couple of book reviews.

One thing I really missed in my crazy year was the opportunity to read for pleasure. So as the year wound down and I found myself with enough time to read fiction, I remembered just how much I love it. As a result I’ve been reading voraciously for the last couple of months and just last week went and got myself a library card for the first time since I was in primary school.

While the library has changed in some respects, with self-service check out and the ability to pre-order your books online, it still has that amazing reverential quietness that is really only found in libraries and the far galleries of museums. It was such a pleasure wandering the shelves seeing if I could find some of the huge number of books I have on my Goodreads to-read shelf.

But back to the reviews. Over summer I read my way through a pile of books. Today I’m picking two at opposite ends of the spectrum, a light comedy and a deep literary work.

First up the comedy - "The Rosie Effect" by Graeme Simsion.

Don Tillman and Rosie Jarman are now married and living in New York. Don has been teaching while Rosie completes her second year at Columbia Medical School. Just as Don is about to announce that Gene, his philandering best friend from Australia, is coming to stay, Rosie drops a bombshell: she’s pregnant.

In true Tillman style, Don instantly becomes an expert on all things obstetric. But in between immersing himself in a new research study on parenting and implementing the Standardised Meal System (pregnancy version), Don’s old weaknesses resurface. And while he strives to get the technicalities right, he gets the emotions all wrong, and risks losing Rosie when she needs him most.

This is the sequel to “The Rosie Project”, the story of the hapless in love (and life) Don Tillman and his quest to find a wife.

If you loved “The Rosie Project” I’d say there is a good chance you will love “The Rosie Effect” (and if you haven’t read “The Rosie Project” you should, it is great). In some ways it doesn't quite have the impact of the first book. You are used to Don’s inability to interpret the world in the way the vast majority of us do and can foresee the chaos that ensues as a result. However it still has laugh out loud moments, places where you cringe as you understand what was happening in a way Don never can and it leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy.

While this book was never going to set the literary world on fire, I really enjoy Graeme Simsion’s writing. The book is well paced (although it does wrap up its conclusion rather rapidly) and it is easy to read. It is high quality chick lit and I would characterise it as the perfect holiday read. Fun, easy to set down and pick up again and will leave you with a smile on your face.

In stark contrast is “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt.

Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love - and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph - a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.

What a book! The writing is glorious and the story compelling but oh so dark in contrast with “The Rosie Effect”. This was a book where I wanted to dive into the pages and gather Theo in my arms to stop him from hurting himself. At points I almost wanted to stop reading, Theo’s experiences are so painful they can be debilitating to read, but the gripping story drew me on to a conclusion that was not exactly satisfying, but it was real. Just like life everything doesn't work out in a neat package, things are still messy and unresolved but life continues on anyway.

“The Goldfinch” won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014, won and was shortlisted for numerous other awards and listed on various best books award and from the opening pages it isn’t hard to see why. This is a serious literary work.

I did feel the last third of the book dragged a little before it picked up for its rather frenetic finish, but overall “The Goldfinch” is an intense, quality read. This is a book for a rainy weekend with no distractions other than big cups of tea.

As different as these books are the thing that they have in common is that at their centre are very real, very human people. They have flaws, they struggle  to fit in as they should but they are ultimately, in their own broken ways, striving for happiness and they genuinely care about the others in their lives. Both books are also written in the first person but in a way that gives you significant insight and the ability to appreciate the situation in a way that the characters themselves cannot.

And as different as they are, I have to say I loved them both.

Have you read The Rosie Effect or The Goldfinch? And what should I be getting out of the library next?

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