The club was so beautiful that I resented the press of guests, which made it difficult to see the architectural details, the portraits hung frame to frame – some of them very fine – and the rare books on the shelves. Red velvet swags, garlands of Christmas balsam – were those real candles on the tree? I stood in a daze at the top of the stairs, not wanting to greet or talk to people, not wanting to be there at all –
Hand on my sleeve. “What’s the matter?” said Pippa….
Among the strangers, [Hobie] and Pippa were two of the only really unique or interesting-looking people there: she, like a fairy in her gauzy-sleeved, diaphanous green; he, elegant and endearing in his midnight blue double-breasted, his beautiful old shoes from Peal and Co.
observations: Should be read in conjunction with earlier entry on the book.
Novels are often described as Dickensian, and (same thing with Jane Austen-esque) you do sometimes wonder if the reviewer has actually read, or had any feel for, the original. But for once, this book struck me as like Dickens, in one specific way: the book follows a young man over about ten years of life, and in that time extraordinary things happen to him. When young he is at the mercy of adults who may or may not have his best interests at heart, and ends up in strange situations, with both actual danger and emotional jeopardy: he is storm-tost, hither and thither. Although the story is picaresque, most things are going to link up by the end. So he is a Nicholas Nickleby, a David Copperfield.
As in Dickens, tiny characters get their moment – this is the doorman at the apartment building of Theo’s richest friends:
Even in some smoky post-catastrophe Manhattan you could imagine him swaying genially at the door in the rags of his former uniform, the Barbours up in the apartment burning old National Geographics for warmth, living off gin and tinned crabmeat.And there’s Janet - who is only a memory, and this is practically all that is said about her:
Janet fat and rosy in her pink shetlands and madras plaids like a Boucher nymph dressed J.Crew, Janet who said excellent! In answer to everything and drank coffee from a pink mug that said Janet.
There are wonderful passing descriptions of the lives of the Barbours and their classy friends – all very like the British Sloanes with their fear of ever being alone, their constant social life and need to meet up and chat. Blog favourite Frank O’Hara comes up fleetingly in a glimpse of another relationship that isn’t spelled out.
As I said before, the is a wonderful, marvellous book – it’s a commitment to read it, it is 770 pages long, and Donna Tartt doesn’t feel any need to help you out by reiterating details - who are Moira (a name of interest round here) and Samantha? I’d lost track by the end. But she does help out by making the whole book so compelling and wonderful, it is well worth the commitment.
Picture from Vogue 1950, via the wonderful Clover Vintage Tumblr.