Book Review

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch

  • Author: Donna Tartt
  • Genre: Literary Fiction
  • Publication Date: October 22, 2013
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

CONTENT WARNING: death of a parent, gore, blood, anxiety, mention of sexual abuse, child abuse and neglect, grief, alcoholism, drug use, violence, death, mental illness, bullying, addiction, infidelity, gun violence

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Composed with the skills of a master, The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling force and acuity.

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 longing for his mother, he coins to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the criminal underworld. 

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 his talisman, the painting, places him at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch is a novel of striking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breathtaking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night-and-tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-intervention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

This book was absolutely incredible, although I’ve been putting it off for quite a while because to be honest, it is a huge brick of a book. Unlike a book where I read it and get sucked into the story, this is more of an experience that feels like I’m actually IN the story, at a level of intensity that I’ve rarely found in books.

The writing is so descriptive, even if it is a bit overly wordy at times. Donna Tartt has a way with words that makes me feel as though I was right there with Theo as he went through everything, but they were explained in a way that I’ve never quite seen before. Even when the descriptions were the most off-the-wall, I was able to clearly picture everything:

“His gold-rimmed aviators were tinted purple at the top; he was wearing a white sports jacket over a red cowboy shirt with pearl snaps, and black jeans, but the main thing I noticed was his hair: part toupee, part transplanted or sprayed-on, with a texture like fiberglass insulation and a dark brown-color like shoe polish in the tin.”

Seeing Theo grow up under the heavy burden of grief was heartbreaking. Grief isn’t an easy thing to deal with, but to have your entire world turned upside down at the age of 13? He didn’t just lose his mother, but his home, his stability, his support, and basically his whole world. It was painful to see him struggle with his own grief and how to express it:

“Certainly I wasn’t howling aloud or punching my fist through windows or doing any of the things I imagined people might do who felt as I did. But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illuminated in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.”

The events of one single day affected the entire course of Theo’s life. I couldn’t help but read this whole book without wondering how differently his life would have been if things had occurred differently on that one day. It was no easy thing to be inside Theo’s head for the duration of this book. He was self-pitying, overanalytical, self-sabotaging, and maudlin. But at the same time, I just wanted to take him under my wing and hug him. It’s rare that I can empathize so deeply with such a damaged character.

“My moods were a slingshot; after being locked-down and anesthetized for years my heart was zinging and slamming itself around like a bee under a glass, everything bright, sharp, confusing, wrong — but it was a clean pain as opposed to the dull misery that had plagued me for years under the drugs like a rotten tooth, the sick dirty ache of something spoiled.”

While I tend to strongly prefer plot-driven stories, this character-driven story was one that I just couldn’t put down. It was like I had an uncontrollable need to find out what was going to happen next to Theo, and figure out what the ultimate outcome was for him. The painting was an intriguing side note, but the characters were really what held my attention. There was just something about Boris (especially), and Hobie that kept drawing me in, and wanting to find out what happened to them as well. 

This book was a serious investment of time, mental energy, and emotions, but it was absolutely worth it. I can’t help but wonder if Donna Tartt’s other works are as engrossing as this one. I guess I’ll have to check them out.

11 replies »

  1. I’m so glad to hear you loved it, because this is one of my all time favorites. I’ve read her other books, and completely didn’t get one of them, but liked the other one – although it didn’t reach the heights of the Goldfinch for me. Still good though. Books that are as sweeping as this one are just amazing, and I wish I found more books like that!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed this one, as well! However, I was not a big fan of The Secret History. But I think I’m in the minority on that one. I might have just read it at the wrong time. 😉 Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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