The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is quite a behemoth of a novel; it is pretty daunting in its length and scope. It is the type of novel, that for me anyway, you have to be in the right frame of mind for to start, knowing that it’s going to take some time finish. I started reading it in August of this year and did not finish it until early November – I did read quite a few books in between as well, but always returned to where I had left off. The novel is very accessible, there is not an over-abundance of characters to try and keep track of, and the story is quite simple at heart; this really helped when I was chopping and changing my reading. I didn’t feel like I had lost track of what was going on and it didn’t detract from the novel.
The Goldfinch is about a boy, Theo, who very early in the book gets caught up in a terrorist attack on a museum in New York, it is at this point that two overriding factors that affect the entire novel thereafter occur – firstly his Mother is tragically killed and secondly he acquires a painting that gives the name to the book. The Goldfinch is a real life 17th Century painting by Carel Fabritius, it is a small oil painting of a Goldfinch chained to a ring attached to a wall. Fabritius was a pupil of Rembrandt and later taught Vermeer; the painting is priceless. From this point the novel follows Theo’s life and its many ups and downs. From living in New York with his friends family whom are quite well off and run in high social circles, to living in Las Vegas with his drunk Father and developing a serious drug habit, back to New York to forge his own life. Theo is a very interesting character that despite his many flaws the reader cannot help but to like. He is a well-rounded young man who at heart seems to want to be a good person but sometimes falls short. This is entirely his own fault, he makes bad decisions and is intelligent enough to know better, yet despite this the reader is always on his side. I wanted Theo to be ok, I wanted him to have a full and happy life. I think that because the book starts with tragedy, the reader is compelled to forgive Theo and hope for the very best.
What the Goldfinch has over many other novels is a few excellently written characters; regardless of how you may feel about their personalities and the way in which they act, there is no denying that they are interesting. Friends Theo makes that include the flamboyant Boris and nerdy Andy are written so well that you know exactly what ties the characters in their bond. Theo’s guardians that later become friends are interesting and have a fascinating air about them (especially the furniture restorer/antique dealer Hobie). Theo’s loves, his family, and many others are described beautifully; as relationships blossom and break, the author moves the reader through a spectrum of emotion in a way that ties you closely to the book. And behind all these relationships is one that is stronger than anything else – Theo’s love, passion, fear and guilt with the painting.
Alongside this, the plot rarely falters; it moves along with a skilled pace, taking in the most important parts of Theo’s life and skipping any dross. The book moves from place to place chartering an extraordinary life which stands on the knife edge of believability. The novels dramatic conclusion a fitting ending to a story of a life.
I did enjoy this book, and I would recommend it to others. However, I may have enjoyed it more if I had read it more quickly instead of stopping and starting; reading other things in between. It is a nicely written novel that surprised me – I really didn’t know what to expect when reading it. The Goldfinch is often beautiful and exciting; I raced through the final 200 pages as the book reaches its quite brilliant climax. It is a book that is not necessarily overtly trying to be the “great American novel”, but due to its scope and bulk, cannot hide away from its roots in that tradition. Many authors before have tried, and failed to produce this mythical concept; I don’t know if Donna Tartt was trying (I suspect not), but despite its plaudits The Goldfinch falls a little way short.
If you have read The Goldfinch you may like:
- Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre
- The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck