Book Reviews

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt


The Basics
Title: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
Publisher: Little Brown
Date: October 22, 2013
Genre: Contemporary/Literary Fiction

The Goldfinch is an epic, sweeping, coming-of-age tale following Theodore Decker, a young New Yorker who must somehow continue living after surviving the terrorist attack that killed his mother, Audrey. In the aftermath of the explosion, Theo takes a small painting with him as he escapes from the rubble of the museum they were visiting. The priceless painting, and the guilt and anxiety Theo feels for both taking it and his mother’s death, remain with him and drive much of the plot and development throughout the novel. We follow Theo as he moves in with a ritzy family friend following his mother’s death, gets whisked off to Las Vegas by his deadbeat dad, and eventually returns to New York where he finds passion and a career in the world of antique furniture . Wheeling and dealing, Theo gets drawn into a dangerous underworld where his past and people from it haunt and threaten to undo the life he has built for himself.

This book was the “it” novel of 2013-2014 and won the Pulitzer in 2014. Donna Tartt has written two other books, taking a decade in between each release. Her first novel, The Secret History (1992) and her second The Little Friend (2002) were both well received, but were not as critically acclaimed as the Goldfinch. Her books have been described as modern day Dickensian in terms of the book’s prose, structure, and themes. Common themes Ms. Tartt explores include social status, guilt, and aesthetic beauty, all of which are present in the Goldfinch.   

Some words on structure: At a whopping 771 pages, this thing took me a month to finish, ON AUDIO. The book has five parts, with a couple chapters each (12 chapters total).  Each part is differentiated by either a shift in location (Theo moving from New York to Las Vegas) or time (the narrative jumps eight years at one point), helping to neatly break up the various phases of this bildungsroman (NEW WORD FOR ME! Means “coming of age story”). The novel is told in retrospective first person by the protagonist, Theo.

Like I said, I listened to this on audio from the library, and while I love audiobooks, I find it hard to review them as thoroughly. It’s easier to just get lost in listening and not pay as much attention to the details. Also I can’t exactly write down great passages or phrases while I’m driving, which is usually when I’m listening to audiobooks. So here’s the best I could do in terms of breaking down my likes and dislikes:

Things that work:
  • Literary fiction that isn’t short on action
    I guess I’m a bit of a “have your cake and eat it too” kind of girl when it comes to literary fiction. Usually these novels are heavy on prose and pondering life’s mysteries, but short on plot. Not the case for the Goldfinch. Even so, while there was A LOT happening you still got the sense that the plot wasn’t the focus. The focus was still on character development, namely Theo grappling with guilt and growing up and the power beautiful objects can have over us. It’s an interesting in between and I kind of liked it- best of both worlds!
  • Popper
    popperMore cute dogs in books please! Popper was obviously just a side character in the book, but I found myself wondering “what’s Popper doing right now?” and “where’s Popper?” way more often than I probably should have. It’s so interesting how it sometimes takes an animal to reveal how “human” characters can be. In a book chock full of unlikeable characters (and there are a lot of them in this book- more on that below), I was more sympathetic towards this dog than most of the human characters in the book.
  • Hobie and the furniture store
    For me, these were some of my favorite parts of the book. Hobie becomes Theo’s mentor and a father figure, and he is such a sweet, generous person who loves what he does. In this case, Hobie restores furniture. Many reviewers (including Stephen King) say they could have done with less furniture talk, but for some reason I found it fascinating.
Things that didn’t work:
  • Overly flowery language
    So I know I use this phrase a lot when talking about books, but I think the Goldfinch’s writing style is another “it’s not you, it’s me” type of situation. I tried to pick up Dicken’s in the past and it didn’t work for me, so when I started reading reviews comparing the Goldfinch and Donna Tartt’s style to Great Expectation, I felt it was a true comparison. Many people love those books! I’m not one of them, and I think that’s ok! The last quarter of the book was very confusing for me. It was very plot driven and then the very end was dominated by monologues from the main characters that I felt were kind of forced and out of place.
  • Length
    It was sooooo long. There were long passages where I would just zone out or not be very interested in what was going on. I really disliked most of the Las Vegas section.
  • Unlikeable characters/protagonist
    I actually didn’t mind this that much, but I know some readers really don’t like when most of the characters are unlikeable. Fair warning- this is one of those books.

So yet again I’m giving a mediocre review. This would not be a book I’d reread, but I can think of several people I’d recommend it to and I know many of my Goodreads buddies have given this four or five starts. For me it just wasn’t there so I’m giving it a:

3 stars3.0/5.0

Whew! Ok- first book review of my comeback complete. I’ve only got three more reviews and about half a dozen tags to do to be all caught up! Have any of you read the Goldfinch? What did you think about this love/hate book? I can’t wait to hear what you though, but until then…

Off to the cupboard with you now, Chip. It’s past your bedtime. Goodnight, love…”

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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