BOOK REVIEW | The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

“I had a strange feeling of being already dead, of moving in a vaster sidewalk grayness that the street or even the city could encompass, my soul disconnected from my body and drifting among other souls in a mist somewhere between past and present, Walk Don’t Walk, individual pedestrians floating up strangely isolated and lonely before my eyes, blank faces plugged into earbuds and staring straight ahead, lips moving silently, and the city noise dampened and deafened, under crushing, granite-colored skies…” – Theo Decker

The Goldfinch is one incredibly voluminous book so I’m going to make this as short and sweet as possible. This novel follows the life of Theo Decker following the death of his mother caused by an NYC museum bombing. In the chaos of the museum post-explosion, Theo steals the 1965 painting of a chained Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius at the bidding of a dying old-man. He leaves the wreckage of the museum behind, yet he will be haunted by the tragedy and stolen painting in the pages to come. As Theo’s story unfolds, Tartt artfully captures the grief Theo experiences as a result of losing his mom and his former life. An orphan for all intents and purposes (at this point in the story Theo’s dad is AWOL), Theo goes to live with an old friend and his seemingly perfect family- elitist, beautiful and wealthy but with many, many problems. Theo struggles to feel comfortable in their home but strikes up an unlikely friendship with a man named Hobie. Hobie’s character and relationship with Theo reminds me a lot of a Hagrid/Harry Potter situation. As his visits with Hobie increase, the reader begins to witness Theo slowly coming back into himself. At this point (much to Theo’s dismay), his Dad shows up and moves him out of New York and into Las Vegas. There we meet *one of my favorite characters* Boris, Theo’s quirky new bestie. These two bond quickly, both struggling with abusive fathers and a sordid history that affects them both deeply. Looking beyond the trouble these two manage to get themselves into together, they form a deep bond as they share their lives, drugs, alcohol and more drugs while growing up hard and fast in Vegas. When Theo finally manages to escape Vegas he returns to New York and reconnects with Hobie. At this point Theo is struggling with a drug addiction and the ever-present (but stealthily hidden) stolen painting. He slowly begins to find a good rhythm with his life – working with Hobie and attempting to engage in a romantic relationship. (Bypassing five hundred-million details, characters and subplots as to not reveal any spoilers), Theo must eventually deal with the reality of the stolen painting. His journey will also take him to Amsterdam where… so. much. happens. The emotional roller coaster Tartt takes you on should have a warning sign before you board. If this synopsis seems short and lacking for a monster sized book… you are correct. I am being intentionally coy regarding the painting and its significance within this book and I honestly don’t believe this book is meant to be pared down. Just read it, immerse yourself into the life of Theo Decker and let Donna Tartt tell this story (she does a much better job than I). The Goldfinch has received abundant praise for its Dickens-esque prose and the quality of Tartt’s story-telling ability (you can read some of those here, and here). But a book so highly praised is also subject to some harsh criticism (you can read an interesting article here). While I strongly believe in reading both sides, I do identify with the former. I read A LOT of books and I found myself VEHEMENTLY disagreeing with Tartt’s naysayers. So, if we are getting down and dirty into the nitty gritty then, yes. Read this novel. Not just because it won the Pulitzer (it did!) but because it is the type of novel that should be read no matter what. It’s long and challenging at times but incredibly worthy of the time you’ll spend reading it. The book is long, 800+ pages long, but it has a fantastical and improbable premise (in a good way) with a sprawling narrative so beautifully written that I became enraptured within Theo’s life and the multitude of characters that he comes in contact with on his journey. I won’t deny that at times that the pages upon pages of abstract descriptions can be daunting, but overall I found this book to be exceptionally thought-provoking with witty, emotional, and complex characters. This type of novel does not come around often (perhaps why it took Tartt almost 10 years to write) and is most definitely worth a read.

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  1. Pingback: Just Bookish Things | Little blog of books

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