The Goldfinch by: Donna Tartt – A novel.
AGE: 16+ // GENRE: Fiction // PAGE COUNT: 771 // RATING: 3.5/5
*As always, the summary is courtesy of Goodreads.*
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Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
Hello! Welcome back to another review! I recently read Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Goldfinch and was at once pleasantly surprised and drastically underwhelmed.
My most recent revelation: The greatest literature is seldom the most enjoyable to read.
The Goldfinch is a desperately thrilling exploration of the profound devastation and despair of a young child following the untimely death of his mother. Throughout the novel, Tartt beautifully captures the raw edge of unruly boyhood and abandonment, her darkly humorous writing enrapturing. Theo and Boris’ carefree recklessness and erraticism remained a rueful source of amusement, the seductive possibility of danger and temptation in their isolation an electrifying element. In addition to Theo and Boris, several of the leading characters were rather intricately imagined and authentically flawed, but their distinct tones waned with age (or rather, as the book progressed) and, as the reader, as did I.
Richly atmospheric and visually stimulating, Tartt’s writing remained astonishingly flavourful throughout The Goldfinch. Although she was successful at capturing distinct tones within the novel’s core, the storyline drifted aimlessly, disguised in the facade of a cultured exploration of Carel Fabritius’ celebrated painting, “The Goldfinch.” Tartt and her publishers’ decision to pitch this novel as such remains a mystery to me. While a novel does not necessarily require an elaborate plot for its success (refer to Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin), “The Goldfinch” painting remained a phantom presence throughout Tartt’s novel. However, despite its ever-present company, its contribution to the development of the novel was slight. Had Tartt allowed the painting to remain a distant symbolic presence, its contribution aptly ambiguous and suitable for analysis, and further developed her cast of characters, I daresay the novel would have proved triumphant.
However, the conclusion to The Goldfinch illuminated Tartt’s intentions for the artwork to remain at the root of the novel. Within the final two hundred or so pages, the novel adopted the tone of a thriller (a genre that rarely produces literary achievements, but mere one-time reads, in my opinion) as the artwork’s potential philosophical significance was tragically reduced to the melodrama of a crescendo most reminiscent of a thriller novel. If not wildly cliche, Tartt’s (Theo’s) parting words—or rather, monologue—felt hollow and well-worn, their relevance to the novel superficial and delayed. More desperately, however, the conclusion unfavourably simplified the novel by offering a bloated and convoluted explication of the text.
Despite its blissfully enjoyable nature (for the majority of the novel), The Goldfinch was dramatically prolonged to the point of great dissatisfaction and exasperation. This novel has illuminated for me the disparity between a significant and transformative piece of literature and a deliciously entertaining and enjoyable one. To clarify, I am not comparing The Goldfinch to the trashy, shallow young adult books I regrettably used to favour (such as Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass); but I do believe Tartt’s novel has a distinctly one-time read quality as a result, in part, of its accessible and, for lack of a more appropriate word, simple material. Although the prevailing themes are not necessarily light and fluffy, neither Tartt’s prose nor implications challenge the reader’s perception of the text. “The Goldfinch” painting is an undeniably promising and intriguing theme, but Tartt’s execution lacked sophistication and depth. The Goldfinch offers neither a refreshing nor ambitious perspective, but a source of entertainment.
Ah, but at least I was sufficiently amused for the first several hundred pages!
Thank you for reading!
Until next time,