Saturday, January 18, 2014

I miss him

I finished reading Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch about a month ago and I've had the strangest response. I enjoyed the book immensely, but it isn't the pleasure of reading the book that I miss (well, a little because it was a wonderfully immersive read). I miss one of the characters: I miss Boris.

Boris isn't the main character (that would be Theo) and he isn't in the first big chunk of the book and disappears for a good long while later in the book.  He's first a school boy and soon becomes an Ukrainian mobster with a heart of gold--unethical in a traditional sense yet highly loyal and thus admirable in a completely different way.

I would probably be terrified of Boris if I ever saw him in person. I rarely choose to spend time with people who are simultaneously erratic, violent, drunk and stoned. But I want to see him walk around the corner because I miss how interesting he was.

I've read a few reviews that compare the book to Dickens, and there are a ton of similarities. I've read a lot of Dickens and enjoyed a lot of Dickens and I think it's pretty clear that Boris is modeled on the Artful Dodger. But I've never I've felt this sort of affection for a character in Dickens.

I found that after I finished the book, I missed Boris the way I miss Falstaff, particularly the Falstaff in Henry IV Part II (and by the way, Simon Russell Beale's portrayal of the role in The Hollow Crown production of the plays was amazing). He lies and cheats and steals and is selfish and excessive, but he loves Hal and for that the audience forgives him everything (Hal doesn't, but that's part of Hal's character's growth). Similarly Boris loves Theo--he's the one person who really sees who Theo is, even when Theo is clueless about himself. And for that the reader loves Boris even when he's embarking on what appears to be a completely disastrous tangent.

There were things about the book that drove me crazy--sometimes it seemed like it was trying too hard to be like Dickens. And (similar to Dickens) the younger women characters were not satisfying which surprised me, since Tartt's other two novels have fully-drawn, complex women characters. (Was their flatness an homage to Dickens' heroines? If so, I'd like to have told her she had plenty of Dickensian similarities already packed in almost 800 pages and could chuck the Victorian roles of angel and devil.) And there's one completely simple solution to Theo's predicament with the stolen painting that never appears and the willful dodging of it got me pissy at times (I'm not going to list it here because maybe you can read the book and not have it bugging you in the back of your mind.) I put this book down and stalked huffily away a few times, but I kept being drawn back, and Boris was a big part of that.

But even with all these issues, I can still say that this book gave me so much more. It made me want to go sit in an art museum again and spend time with a painting (I haven't been in a museum without kids in way too long). It made me want to tramp the streets of NYC. It made me want to go to Amsterdam again (even though the main character is completely miserable while there). But most of all it made me appreciate interesting people who may not be safe people.

Have you read it? What did you think?


Anonymous said...

You have made me want to read this. I will get back with you on my interpretations of the book in a bit. I know what you mean about missing the characters though. I feel that way often about the characters in the books I read and about the characters in movies I watch. I love interacting with people but I also love to read about people which is a bit like being a spectator. I love being a spectator as well and participating in people watching. I never understood people who complain about going out to eat by themselves. I LOVE it. It is the best people watching as is riding the bus while, "reading a book".

Sarah said...

I finally finished. Yes, I did love Boris. Ready to discuss!

Sarah said...

I finally finished. Yes, I did love Boris. Ready to discuss!