The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
What do I think?
I don’t even know…
The book is herky-jerky, beginning when Theo is a man, then he’s a boy, and the reader follows his misadventures until he’s a man again. The opening of the end was like a punch to the gut. Journals? Letters to his dead mother? Incomplete recollections?
I see why this book is renowned, the imagery is breathtaking. However, I felt woefully under-educated and inexperienced as I read. I would probably flunk out of this book club.
‘The Goldfinch’ is an education in art history, antiquities, high society and those middling others who slink about feasting on the scraps of the wealthy and trying to blend in with fanciful histories and equally fancy attire. ‘The Goldfinch’ offers lessons in wealth, ill gotten gains, addiction, abandonment, self preservation, (homoerotic) love, and obsession.
But I can’t say I enjoyed this book…
Once I made it through chapter one, the plot became more engaging. I felt deeply for the poor orphaned Theo. I hoped he would turn out okay, but he won’t based on the beginning of chapter one (an unhappy fact that stayed with me as I read the 780+pages). I continued to read because I needed to know how he ended up in such a state.
There was no escaping the sense of being told a story. The language and tone of the narration, the word choice all felt deliberate. A boy of 13 would not speak in such a way, despite acknowledging he was gifted in words from a young age.
What truly kept me turning the page was the colorful supporting cast. Boris, Hobie, Pippa, the doormen, the Barbours, even Welty and Mrs. Decker were much more interesting than Theo. Perhaps because Theo himself believed them to be more alive than he was.
But I can’t say I liked this book.
Clearly, there is a master at work in these pages. Tartt paints vivid pictures that only come alive in the presence of others. Theo is a drugged out, paranoid antiques dealer who suffers from PTSD.
The book was ridiculously long for a simple premise which repeated itself. Theo the accidental art thief coveted his treasure. The painting was then stolen from him, and he was never aware until one of his antiques customers confronts him about being swindled. Why Hobie made replica furniture was lost on me… Boris, the loveable scamp, showed up to confess that he’d taken the painting some years earlier and had amassed a fortune from it, but he will get it back for his beloved ‘Potter.’
All the best parts had Boris in it.
But I still don’t know if I liked this book.
All the highbrow talk became tiresome, although Hobie remained likeable. I too would have enjoyed spending time with him in his workshop. Theo’s constant performing became exhausting. However, for a first person POV, I appreciated the visceral connection to Theo’s experiences and the narration. I usually don’t care for first person POV because so much of what else is happening around the narrator is omitted and the reader is stuck inside one person’s head. Theo’s head is effed up. He’s paranoid, so he saw everything and had a detailed opinion about it. He was most himself with Boris, I think. At first I thought the author was a bit inconsistent with the two boys’ voices, but perhaps Tartt is just that skilled to show the nuances in Theo’s development. That he would speak, and maybe even think, with the same cadence of the company he kept.
That ending… I never believed this would be a happily ever after, but there’s no real end. Theo kinda sorta celebrated that he was a part of immorality while he watched Boris shoot up.
For character development, Tartt gets top marks. Plot. The story is layered and engaging. Delivery. It’s a bit too long, yet I’m not sure what could be trimmed, perhaps cutting back on the descriptions would help move things along. After a painfully slow start, the story picked up (at about 30%) and never really slowed down until about 95% complete.
Read it, but start maybe in chapter 2, part 3.
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