The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna TarttThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
on October 22, 2013
Pages: 773
Source: A fellow book blogger sent me this book!
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three-half-stars

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
The Goldfinch combines vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher's calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

 

I had been intending to read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch for at least a year, but sadly, this chunkster sat on my shelf for quite a long time. The book club I just joined chose it for our January meeting, which takes place tomorrow. I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts before hearing the others’ perspectives.

The writing had me hooked from the start. The narrative was so vividly descriptive, it sparkled. I tend to prefer short, snappy sentences, so the beginning took me some adjusting…but not much (only a few pages). I soon discovered the pastoral opening wasn’t going to last. A harrowing event takes place, and the tone of each sentence shifted to match the desperate pace of the scene. That held true throughout the novel: Tartt’s writing style made subtle shifts to meet the needs of whatever was going on. More descriptive when things were calm or pensive; more snappy when action-focused or chaotic. There’s definitely going to be plenty to discuss!

The entire novel follows the long-term repercussions of a tragic, pivotal moment in 13-year-old Theo’s life, centering around a rare and beloved painting, following him into adulthood. I appreciated that the story unfolded in a linear fashion. I’d get to the end of a chapter, and the thought of hopping around in time stressed me out. I needed this story to take place in order, and it did.

For the first half of the book, I couldn’t put it down. A little over halfway through, it started to wear on me all the way to the end. The book’s themes are hard: profound loneliness, shocking neglect, destructive behavior. That goes on for pages and pages, and I just wanted it to be over (maybe that was the point). There was a scene during which Tartt threw in a baffling insult toward homeschoolers (apparently a “dumb, shifty, homeschooled look” is a thing?). Also, part of me grew bored with some of the characters. Not only did they seem one-dimensional, but cliché. The Barbours, a wealthy family who welcome Theo into their home, but mostly maintain a layer of detachment, as if they were helping out of pity or obligation (you know how cold rich people are). Boris, his wild, alcoholic Ukrainian friend (you know how violent they are, and how they can drink). Even Theo’s deadbeat father and kind, grandfatherly Hobie; for as much time as I spent with these characters, it seems like they could have developed a little bit more. I saw glimpses, especially toward the end, but it wasn’t enough.

Somehow, this novel was still an incredibly compelling read, despite the issues I had with it. I was surprised that I could be annoyed with something as fundamental as the characters, yet truly want to keep reading through to the end. I wouldn’t read this book again, but I am glad I spent the time with it, and I do want to read more by Tartt. Does that sound too contradictory? I kind of like a bit of contradiction in my life…

Have you read any of Tartt’s other novels? Which is your favorite?

three-half-stars