Friday, March 28, 2014

The Demise of Mystery


The Demise of Mystery

I recently finished reading The Goldfinch, the multi-layered novel by author Donna Tartt, pictured above.  It is not a book to be read casually, as it was not written casually.  As is her wont, Ms. Tartt took ten years to write The Goldfinch, just as she did with her previous two novels.  The research is obvious here; one learns many things, from the intricate artistry of antique restoration to the dark and wasteful idiosyncrasies of the drug culture.  Everything, from the harsh light that crashes down on Las Vegas to the horizontal sleet that lashes Amsterdam windows at Christmastime, is vivid.  The book is Dickensian in scope, the characters diverse and clearly drawn, and it provided me with several rather theatrical dreams on the nights I read far too late.  I enjoyed it immensely.

Closing The Goldfinch after reading the final sentence I thought some about Donna Tartt and realized I knew very little about her.  Her author photograph remains virtually unchanged throughout her three books - same stark haircut, same direct stare.  I had no idea where she lived, whether or not she was married.  Did she have children?  Was she gay?  Did she have pets?  Looking around online unearthed scant information beyond the photographic evidence that she does indeed appear to share her life with a pug.  The only interviews I could find were those in which she spoke solely about her work.  How refreshing this was.  How unusual.  As I thought about how vital, at least for me, this mystery is to the work of an artist, I stopped looking for any more information on the inscrutable Donna Tartt.

There are days when I mourn the demise of mystery.  That illusive bit of uncertainty about someone; those little questions with the answers just out of reach, just past one’s fingertips, seem to add something irresistible and unique to a person.  I admit that it’s often difficult to lose myself in a book or film when I know too much about the personal life of an author or actor.  To preserve mysteries and surprises, I rarely read the flyleaf of a book till I’m done with it, am wary of movie previews, and rather wish great actors would stay off talk shows.  But in a world where, shall we politely say, over-sharing, can land you on the cover of American Vogue, I suppose, once again, I find myself in the minority.

Just yesterday I was a little befuddled to see a “personal message” from actress, Gwyneth Paltrow, in my inbox.  Upon opening it I squirmed as I read an email telling me about the breakup of her marriage, or in what I can only assume was an unintentionally humorous euphemism, their “conscious uncoupling”. It must be something beyond hubris that compels this sort of communication to the general public, but I couldn’t label it if I tried.  I do fear I’ll now find it difficult to watch Ms. Paltrow in any film without this inappropriate email swimming to the front of my head like a dreaded omen on an eight-ball. 

Believe me, I see the irony of extolling the beauties of mystery on the public forum of a blog.  But in the writing I do here, I only crack open the window of my life, just a bit, to allow the escape of those feelings and experiences that best show the promise for bursting through the personal to join the universal.  I try not to slather my writing with too much that is mine alone, as I’m sure the reader should greatly appreciate.  

I confess, I’d love to know your thoughts on this.
  Are you beguiled by a little mystery, as am I?  
Or do you prefer to know as much as you can about someone?  

If you want to read The Goldfinch for yourself,
you can find it HERE


32 comments:

  1. I LOVE a little mystery! Sometimes it's okay to leave something to the imagination,right?

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  2. Oh yes, I so agree. I've been asked by family and friends why I'm not on Facebook, and my thoughts fall along these lines. A little mystery is so intriguing, and we've accustomed ourselves to finding even tame Wikipedia entries on just about anyone with even the vaguest celebrity status. Nowadays it's all about "branding," and if you're trying to push your wares or services in the marketplace you're supposed to make your "brand" recognizable on several platforms. Publishers leave their writers (other than the few big stars) lucky enough to get a contract, to market themselves. Self-promotion is not only encouraged, but expected. Hardly what most writers, who tend to be retiring types content to work alone, signed up for. I'm definitely in your minority camp as regards the cover of Vogue. I'll take your review of The Goldfinch in consideration as I've read both positive and negative ones of this book and hadn't decided whether to venture in. As for scouting for books to read, if it's an author I regularly read, then I don't read the flyleaf, but if it's an unknown I try to read as little as possible, just enough to either intrigue me or know it's not my cup of tea. And as for movies, it's always a disappointment when the previews have already shown every funny line. As usual, you've beautifully expressed my own thoughts.

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  3. First let me say Pamela that I admire your blog tremendously. In the first place you are a brilliant writer and you obviously put a huge amount of thought into your posts - I look forward to them eagerly. As to an answer to your question, I think it largely depends upon the nature of the blog. I started my blog as being about the life of a farmer's wife in the Yorkshire Dales. Thus from the first moment it was personalised. Maybe there is room for both, but I do try to keep my comments about my personal life as straightforward as possible.

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  4. I also love your blog and your writing. Always look forward to reading it. I agree with Carolyn...I think I'm one of the remaining few not on Facebook. I've just never felt the need. I believe it irks others because they need to take the time to call and talk with me if they want to know how I am. I've mostly always been a private person. I'm with you, a little mystery is so much better. Thank you for all your work on this blog. It is a joy to read.

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  5. No Facebook for me either. I can't fathom the compulsive over-sharing of people today, and not just the young but old broads like me, too! One hears stories of embarrassment and humiliation that follow the once gleeful poster forever. Why would anyone else follow in the footsteps of drunken photo posters, ugly break-up posters, and brushes-with-the-law posters? So yes, mystery in one's personal life is a very good thing. Poor Gwyneth Paltrow, well, I'm embarrassed for her and the insipid explanation about "uncoupling" and something else about committed parenting of the two children. I admit (with a wink) that I read the news on Huff Post, my guilty pleasure.

    But Pamela, your writing is gentle and thoughtful observation from a place I imagine is quite apart from the ego driven blather we so often encounter. Even though it's often personal, you don't indulge in unnecessary pathos, no spilling of guts. Just "Here's what I noticed today. What do you think?" It's the best sort of writing that always make me glad to receive your posts. So, thank you

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  6. Pamela,
    I agree with most of what you've said. I find once I know someone, and would like to call them "friend", I am slightly put off by mystery. I'm mostly speaking of girlfriends. If they are guarded or leave too much to mystery, I feel they must not trust me with information. I'm not the kind that wants to know everything about anyone, but sharing is a part of friendship for me. That said, I don't want to know too much about celebrities. I'm disappointed when I read or hear that actors I like are divorcing (I'm glad I unsubscribed to goop, GP's email would have saddened me). I agree 100%, over-sharing personal information is distasteful to me for the most part, unless we're friends. :-)
    Karen

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  7. Mary Lou in Central NYMarch 26, 2014 at 7:27 PM

    Five minutes after reading your post, guess who's "uncoupling" was all over the entertainment show? All I could think was "Hmm, who has a movie, tv show, book, CD or appearance coming in the near future? Then I changed the channel.

    Thanks to your review, I put The Goldfinch on my Amazon wish list. Sounds great!

    I am also not on facebook.

    Thanks for a great blog that I check daily!

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  8. Wow....so much to respond to here. First, I, too, enjoyed "The Goldfinch"; kept going to it like a pair of comfortable pj's. Second, I received the same message from Ms. Paltrow. I was taken with the irony....in her last statement she begged for privacy because, she said, they had always conducted their relationship in private; yet, she chose to announce the separation, very publicly, on her blog!!! Third, I am always interested in knowing something about writers I admire, but admit, too much information can be a minefield. For example, one such author, whose writing workshops I have contemplated taking, lays her life bare......such is her style. However, she also has no hesitation ranting about her political prejudices on her very public facebook page, which now leaves me struggling to separate her strong political preferences and intolerance for opposing opinions from my appreciation of her work. A little mystery is always a good thing! Angela Muller

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  9. Yes! Yes.. mystery is wonderful. As much as i can, i ignore the overdone, oversharing 'glamor' and gossip that is Hollywood. Blech. Kim Kardashian and her husband? on the cover of Vogue. I will not buy this month's issue because of it. Gwyneth Paltrow's message to the world about her divorce. It's just too much. I heard her website crashed because so many people visited it. Clearly there is a hunger for info about celebrities out there that i will never understand. People are praising her for 'controlling her story.' Why does she have to tell it? There used to be a lot of mystery to Hollywood stars and their personas. Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, etc. I wonder what they'd think of all this stuff about Hollywood divorces, affairs??

    Anyway.. :) .. yes, i read The Goldfinch and adored it. It's a long read, but so well worth the time. I took my time and savored it. What a vivid, magnificent story! Her novel 'The Secret History' is wonderful also. If you've not read it; i highly recommend it.

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  10. Ah mystery . . . much too little of it left in my book. There is too much 'revealing' these days as a rule as well as lack of style,both in clothing as well as personal information about everyone, microphones shoved in grieving families' faces. We are overloaded with information that we neither wish to see or hear. I recently read a book called 'Lost Lake',which had great reviews on the back. My daughter had picked it up on a charity bookstall and warned me that it needed editing. In fact, it needed a lot of editing and re-writing to make the underlying story come to life. The bare bones could have worked with fleshing out. As it was, it just fell flat. I don't even remember the author.

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  11. Celebrities/famous people and their lives are not real. Oh sure, there are a couple here and there, but mostly the lives they live are very superficial. When there is not much depth, we (the normal public) get more information than we need. It befuddles me as to why people are so interested in such superficial lives - sure, they exude money, but that is really quite boring.

    Give me some real people with real passions and the methods in which they deal with day to day life any time. Much more interesting, much more engaging, and more importantly adds to the richness of my life.

    I mean, really, Kim and Kanye on the cover of Vogue - yee gads, what is the world coming to!!

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  12. Human nature has ensured that gossip and voyeurism have always been in vogue, but media and social media make it more accessible. If not for the insatiable demand of the consumer, perhaps the supply would diminish. There is an awful lot of money to be made in scratching that itch.

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  13. I certainly can identify with your statement about retaining one's privacy while writing a public blog. Being an extremely private person made it difficult for me to finally take the leap, but I think we can find a balance of the two. Retaining an air of mystery is one of the elements that made Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis one of, if not the most alluring person in the world. She never was interviewed by any publication following the assassination of JFK and to my knowledge never talked to the press before her death on any subject. There's something absolutely alluring about a mysterious public figure. I read The Secret History and loved it; was put off by negative reviews of Goldfinch which said it gets too bogged down with descriptions of the drug culture and Las Vegas scenes. I may eventually read it tho because she is such an excellent writer.

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  14. The Goldfinch was such a delightful and well crafted book. So much so that when I finished it, I struggled to read other books because they did not measure up. Not only were the characters rich and rewarding, the places took on a persona that so perfectly described them that they were characters unto themselves.
    The privacy debate is interesting from the stand point that I am not on Facebook because it is too invasive. And yet, I share much more with my friends that my parent's generation would have ever dreamed of because of keeping up appearances. I also click on links about celebrity gossip- Guilty! I guess one could say I am a hypocrite.
    Jill

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  15. As an extremely shy child, I watched and listened. When I grew up I realized that is the way I learned about people/life. I don't talk much about my personal life in my blog, but I wonder if others think the same. I am an odd duck I guess; guard my privacy. And yet, my daughter has told me to self-edit a time or two and immediately afterward, I looked at the cashier and said, "I'd like to tell you about a childhood adventure of mine". My daughter nearly died and we laughed and laughed about it while the cashier looked at me like I was crazy. Guess I don't have a filter sometimes. She says I share too much with strangers. Haven't started the GOLDFINCH yet, but have it.

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  16. I do enjoy reading interviews with a few of my favorite actors and musicians, and finding out a little about their lives, BUT I do not enjoy being forced to learn every detail of the life of an over-sharing celebrity I don't care about at all. I mean, I've never watched any Kardashian nonsense on purpose, but I have to hear and see more than I care to know about them if I want to listen to the radio, watch tv, or read a newspaper. Ugh.

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  17. I too am a big fan of all Donna Tartt's books, but do not remember reading anything about her. Some of the characters in The Goldfinch were so wonderful and unforgettable - notably Boris, who lights up every page on which her appears. I like Ms Tartt even more now, for knowing that she does not promote herself as a 'personality' or a 'celebrity'.
    Cheers, Gail.
    PS I was given the hardback copy of The Goldfinch for Christmas, but after several evenings of wrist ache believe it to be an excellent argument for buying a Kindle!

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  18. The Goldfinch is the first Donna Tart book that I have read and I absolutely loved it...I can't wait to read her previous 2 books. I say - good for her - for keeping her private life out of the readers' reach - it's really none of our business - and I have to admit - it does make her even more intriguing. Plus I love her fashion style in the few photos that I've spotted.

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  19. a sense of mystery ... like romance ... is a lost art.
    we seem to be living in a progressively more all the time... say all show all ... boring or unlovely though it may be.

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  20. I don't need to know about Donna Tartt's personal life. I loved The Secret History and I have The Goldfinch on audio which I will listen to during the southern hemisphere winter.

    I still remember being an undergraduate and discussing William Wordsworth's relationship with Annette Vallon in a tutorial. It was dismissed by our tutor as mere "biographical speculation" and he was right, the text speaks for itself. Interesting as it might be to know about people, one should not be influenced by their private life in reading books.


    As for social media really not interested and fortunately don't have to be involved unless I want to be.

    Sue

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  21. I am looking forward to reading The Goldfinch as soon as school is out. I have heard both positive and negative so must see for myself. No better way to begin my summer vacation than with a wonderfully long book that I can't put down! Good for Ms. Tartt if she has managed to keep her private life private! You articulated beautifully, as always, my own thoughts about privacy and a sense of mystery having gone the way of the dinosaur. "Class" and "style" are disappearing, as well. I am delighted to know I am not the only person not on Facebook. Perhaps we should all find each other and form a club! We could connect on Face--… Oh, never mind. That being said, I will admit to being a voyeur at heart. I adore reading blogs and catching glimpses into others' lives! But I leave knowing only what that individual wishes me to know. I like wanting to know more about someone--and NOT knowing. And social media is all about knowing EVERYTHING, including things we'd rather not know. An air of mystery sprinkled with a dose of fantasy is usually better than reality… (Which might explain why I refuse to watch "reality" shows on television. I can imagine no greater waste of time.)
    Thank you, Pamela, for giving your readers just enough of yourself to make us look in the mirror and come to know ourselves better.

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  22. PS By the way, I just discovered the British drama "Lark Rise to Candleford." Did you follow it? I just have to know! ;-)

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  23. Hi, I look forward to reading the book, it sounds like just the thing for this rainy day. You have given me a lot to think about with your post. I wonder if the sharing, which used to take place between intimates, has become public because in part, people don't know what real friendship is anymore. People have contacts, and networks, and connections and associates and colleagues, and they have thousands of "friends" on Facebook and in chat rooms, but few if any real friends with which to share the personal side of life. Mystery implies reserve, which requires self-control, and that is a fairly rare characteristic today as well. Warmest Regards, N.G.

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  24. Yes, I agree with you. And Donna Tartt has done a great job of keeping her private life to herself. I love the mystery about her. I adored The Goldfinch, one of the best books I have read in a long time. What a fascinating topic. Thanks for another great blog post!
    xx Sunday

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  25. I like to leave a little (maybe more like a lot) to the imagination.

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  26. I am beguiled by mystery; less is always more in all things.

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  27. Mary Lou BethuneApril 1, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    Goldfinch is a wonderful book. The characters are deep and interesting and funny at times. It's beautifully written with a circumspect manner that with holds just as some of the characters withhold themselves. It's so well thought out and it's so intimate. You will be touched.

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  28. It was interesting to read your response to the Goldfinch, as you know I had mixed feelings but still enjoyed the book. I couldn't find much about the author beyond her work and that is rare in the age of twitter, FB and blogs. I would assume that Tartt is introverted, like many authors. I would like to know more about her but I'd also like to know less about Gwyneth. My teenaged daughter likes to say TMI. I think your blog has the right balance of public and private. I reveal probably less than I should on my blog but that's my nature. I prefer to look out than to look in.

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I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!