Grow UP, Theo! Literally and figuratively. My real take on The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, is at heart a tragic coming-of-age story. It follows the life of Theo Decker, a 13-year-old from New York, who survives a tragic accident resulting in the loss of his mother and ultimately everything that he holds dear. All that he has to remind him of her is an oil painting, The Goldfinch, which he holds tight to throughout his adolescence and into adulthood.
Via Huffington Post
The Goldfinch (1654) is an oil painting by Dutch painter Carel Fabritius. One of Rembrandt’s most talented students, Fabritius, died in an explosion the same year this painting was completed.
As this is my first book review, I wanted to choose a novel that was really being talked about. With over 13,000 reviews on Amazon, the majority of them positive, The Goldfinch seemed to fit the bill. The Goldfinch, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is Donna Tartt’s third novel. Published in 2013, it took more than 10 years for Tartt to complete. It was released to great anticipation and received many early accolades, including being chosen by editors of the New York Times Book Review as one of the 10 best books of 2013.
Now if you’ve read my bio you know a little bit about me already, but before I begin my actual review I should let everyone know that I am by no means an expert (or trained) book critic. I LOVE to read, always have, and I am not a snobby reader. I read everything from 18th-century literature to fantasy to horror to whodunits and anything and everything in between.
Having finished reading The Goldfinch nearly a month ago, I have to say that I am still thinking about it.
“If the day had gone as planned, it would have faded into the sky unmarked, swallowed without a trace along with the rest of my eighth-grade year. What would I remember of it now? Little or nothing. But of course the texture of that morning is clearer than the present, down to the drenched, wet feel of the air.”
And this is kind of where the story begins. The novel is written as a retrospective narrated by Theo Decker. How many of us have had days that we will never forget because of one incident or another? This is where this novel really captured my attention. Tartt elegantly and poetically braces us for the worst here. We know something bad is coming and we are ready for it.
For me, the beginning and ending of this book were the best parts. At the start, Tartt progresses the story line well and illustrates her great skill at setting a scene. We can feel Theo’s pain as he faces dealing with the great tragedy of his young life. However, in the middle this novel really begins to drag. I started to wonder if it would ever be over. Theo’s teenage years of debauchery and chaos in Las Vegas were necessary to the progression of his story, but were included in such painstaking detail that it became dull and even at some points just plain annoying. I stopped caring about Theo and started wishing his story would just be finished.
Via Destination 360
Then, suddenly, Theo “grows up” and we’re left wondering what happened between those crazy, drug-riddled teenage years and adulthood. Needless to say, Tartt redeems herself (and the story) at the very end of this book; probably somewhere around 50 pages from the end.
Finally, Tartt provides some very poignant life lessons for Theo and, in turn, her readers. And she does so in a way that is both eloquent and tragically beautiful.
“When I was a boy, after my mother died, I always tried hard to hold her in my mind as I was falling asleep so maybe I’d dream of her, only I never did. Or, rather, I dreamed of her constantly, only as absence not presence: a breeze blowing through a just-vacated house, her handwriting on a notepad, the smell of her perfume, streets in strange lost towns where I knew she’d been walking only a moment before but had just vanished, a shadow moving away against a sunstruck wall.”
Most of the most touching and well-written sections of The Goldfinch come when Theo is remembering or trying to remember his mother. At the end, the reader is left with some potentially valuable insights into human nature including this:
“A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”
What can I really say about The Goldfinch? Did I like it? Did I hate it? Was it well written? Did it deserve a Pulitzer Prize? Was it just well-hyped by the publishing company?
I don’t know. I must say, the fact that I am still thinking about it means that it meant something to me and struck a chord somewhere. At the beginning, I loved it. In the middle, I hated it and wanted to be finished reading (I never give up on a book!). At the end, there is such gorgeous, well-written and meaningful prose that I remembered what initially caught my attention. But was it really enough to make this novel great? There is no doubt that Donna Tartt is an amazing writer with great talent. As far as The Goldfinch, my recommendation is read it, see what all the buzz is about, AND keep in mind that it is about 200 pages too long.
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**Featured image via Amazon