Thank you Donna Tartt

Cover of The GoldfinchI have just finished reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The story begins in Amsterdam with Theo, sick with a fever and locking himself in his hotel room, trying to work how his life could have turned out for the better – if indeed it could have. His life quickly moves back to New York where Theo is on the way to the museum with his mother to view her favourite painting and walks into a day that changes his life forever.

I was with Theo that fateful day and was compelled to remain with him until the end of his story. I was drawn to the array of colourful and memorable characters/rogues that Theo collides with during his life. I was fascinated by the different worlds of art, furniture restoration, antiques, drugs, and gambling. I was entranced by the rich detailed language and the suspenseful storylines, re-reading passages and thinking over the vividly described scenes. This was not an easy read with its themes of loss, obsession, and identity, however it quickly became a compulsive read and was difficult to put down.

I knew I was in the presence of a masterful writer …

A wilderness of gilt, gleaming in the slant from the dust-furred windows: gilded cupids, gilded commodes and torchieres, and – undercutting the old-wood smell – the reek of turpentine, oil, paint, and varnish. I followed him through the workshop along a path swept with sawdust, past pegboard and tools, dismembered chairs and claw-foot tables sprawled with their legs in the air. Though he was a big man he was graceful, a “floater”, my mother would have called him, something effortless and gliding in the way he carried himself. With my eyes on the heels of his slippered feet, I followed him up some narrow stairs and into a dim room, richly carpeted, where black urns stood on pedestals and tasselled draperies were drawn against the sun.

I loved it all. For me this was a pin prick book, it heightened my senses and made me feel more alive. Thank you Donna Tartt.

Christmas at The Homesick Hotel

Cover of HomesickI check in to The Homesick Hotel every Christmas. And I am not alone.

My yearning for family, always subtly present, reaches a crescendo on Christmas Day itself: one red candle in front of my annually diminishing array of Christmas cards, a shtonking great bird in the middle of the table, two Christmas crackers, two paper hats, one nervous looking husband and a glass of champagne. There will be tears.

And you don’t have to be a migrant for homesickness to strike. In Christchurch there are folk homesick for Christmases that took place just down the road in the Red Zone, where they used to live. There are parents longing for Christmases that took place right where they are now, before the kids all left. Then there are those with  no homes and no families at all.

You are all welcome at The Homesick Hotel.

I check in with a full book bag (and if you haven’t yet got one of those, slap it on your Christmas list right now). Here’s what’s in my bag this year:

  • Homesick – a book of linked short stories by Roshi Fernando, an award-winning Sri Lankan writer living in London. The namesake story introduces thirty four characters (most with Sri Lankan names) in the first eighteen pages. I need to read the rest of the book to unravel what is going on.
  • The Goldfinch – I loved Donna Tartt‘s book The Secret History. This new novel is about an abandoned boy, a small painting and the art underworld – that should cheer me up!
  • A House Somewhere – this is an old favourite – a collection of excellent essays on living abroad, written by great writers like Isabelle Allende and William Dalrymple.
  • The Gallery of Vanished Husbands by Natasha Solomons, because it is about Art, Love, the Sixties and has a great title!

Back in 1977, The Eagles said of Hotel California:

You can check out anytime you like… but you can never leave

It’s the same at The Homesick Hotel, but reading does help. A lot. So, what will you pack in your book bag this festive season?