Review first published on my blog: http://memoriesfrombooks.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-goldfinch.html
The goldfinch is a small bird. The Goldfinch is a small painting created by
Carel Fabritius in 1654. The painting is of a small bird chained to its feed box. It is considered to be a masterpiece of tromp l'oeill illusionism. Viewed from a certain angle, the viewer may think that the bird is real. The painting is also one of only about 15 works created by the artist, who died very young. Shortly after painting this piece, he died in a explosion of a gunpowder store in the city of Delft in the Netherlands.
The painting is a key character in the story of Theo Decker. Theo is thirteen years old as the story begins. He is being raised by his mother; his father has recently abandoned them both. Theo and his mother are caught in an explosion, which leaves his mother dead and Theo traumatized. He walks away physically uninjured but altered forever. He also walks away in possession of this painting.
The book proceeds to tell of Theo life - taken in by friends, claimed by relatives, alone, finding and losing friends, living his life as an adult, and repeatedly turning to self-destructive behaviors as an escape.
The book definitely consists of distinct sections centered around different phases in Theo's life. He travels through his life, never finding solace to recover from the trauma of losing his mother. The Goldfinch travels with him, and takes on the role of Theo's anchor.
This book is almost 800 pages long, and one of the saddest, most depressing books I have ever read. If that will deter you as a reader, then this is definitely not the book for you.
That being said, I really liked the book. It has some of the qualities of a train wreck - terrible things happen to this young man; yet, as a reader, you cannot look away. Regardless of the bad choices he makes, I care about Theo and what happens to him. This makes the almost 800 pages fly by, waiting to see if at some point, he finds peace and joy in his life.
At one point, Theo remarks, "As much as I'd like to believe there's a truth beyond illusion, I've come to believe that there's no truth beyond illusion. Because between 'reality' on the one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there's a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic."
This book, in its reading, hits that middle zone.
For better or for worse, The Goldfinch seems to be the book that everyone is talking about. At first I thought it was just a local thing (Donna Tartt is a native Mississippian and we do love our home-grown authors) but then it won the Pulitzer. It was about this time that my book club went rogue and insisted that we read it immediately. Now, 800-something pages later, I'm trying to decide whether I liked it or not.
My initial thought was that it would have been twice the book at half the length. Theo leads a very tragic, depressing, and self-destructive life, and Tartt describes every moment of it in painstaking detail. It was interesting enough to keep me reading, but it was also emotionally exhausting. This is a character study of very broken people who are consumed by depravity, and there is very little about this story that offers any glimmer of hope or redemption.
Then, after dutifully footslogging through 800 pages of woeful minutiae, Tartt rewarded my efforts with an ending so vague and poorly realized that it felt like nothing more than a hastily written afterthought. It seemed to devalue everything that I had just read, making all that hard work to become invested in the characters seem like a waste. Why would she spend so much time holding the threads of this plot so closely, only to let them fall apart so carelessly at the very end?
The Goldfinch is an oddly beautiful book with very well drawn characters, but it suffers from being too much in the beginning and middle and not enough at the end. It is one of those books where a lot is going on but nothing really happens, and the conclusion (what little of it there is) leaves you wondering what the point of it really was after all.
Is it a book worth reading? I really havent decided yet. The general consensus seems to be that the ending, which was disappointing and unrewarding, managed to spoil whatever positives the rest of the book had to offer. The natural answer to the question of Are you glad you read it? seems to be Yes, but Unfortunately, that is about the best answer that I can come up with as well.
I liked this book more as I went along (after the first 50 pages I almost quit on it) but it was EASILY 200 pages too long. Tartt's writing is beautiful but endless descriptions for description's sake become tiresome. I think the basic story, plot line, and characters were all good (although WHERE were the competent adults in this book?!), but it seems like she was determined to make this book an epic by writing and writing when it could have read just as well with judicious editing. I haven't read her other two novels so I can't speak to how this one compares, but I feel as though many of the reviewers were swept up in her (admittedly masterful) use of prose and didn't take into account the readability of this novel. I would probably still recommend the book but be aware you'll have to trudge your way through parts and it's a long go of it.
I actually was very frustrated with this book for about 50% of it. I was not empathizing with Theo, the main character at all, his troubles were all self induced. The authors descriptions of people and events were beautiful, and vivid so this kept me reading. Then almost at the end of the book I was pretty distressed because there was no way things were going to turn out well for the characters that I did like, specifically Hobie. However, the ending is amazing everything turns out well with an unexpected twist and a deeper meaning, you have to read it to find out!
There are thousands of reviews which outline this book's epic plot, so I'll skip that. I want to commend David Pittu for his outstanding reading of this novel. It demanded he voice many characters (male and female), several accents, foreign language phrases, and even a bit of singing, and he mastered all of this. Listening to this book rather than reading it greatly enhanced its enjoyment for me. It's a commitment though - 26 discs is a serious investment of time.