I have first heard about The Goldfinch because of the movie that was heavily advertised on Facebook page of my local cinema. Although the story itself somewhat sparked my interest, by the time the first reviews and box office chart results came out, it was clear that paying money to see this movie would be a waste. However, Donna Tartt has been on my reading list for a while, so upon realizing the movie is actually based on one of her novels, I got myself a copy. Since I have not yet watched the movie, I cannot comment upon it, but here are my thoughts on the book.
This is a coming-of-age story about Theodore Decker, a boy who loses his mother in a fictional terrorist attack on a museum and learns to live with that and many other severe losses in his life. In fact, the narration in the novel is given through Theo’s voice. I believe this really worked in this novel, as it is actually comprised of his diaries. He is often brutal, but also honest and is able to present his story in a realistic manner, albeit taking into account his psychological state. Speaking of which, Tartt does not shy away from openly writing about alcohol and drug abuse, sexual encounters and abusive parents. While I can resent the sheer frequency of depictions of Theodore and his friend Boris doing drugs and drinking, I cannnot say that Tartt uses them for shock value. Rather, they are an example of the consequences of unchecked trauma that Theodore went through and inability of adults around him to help him. In this sense, I believe that Tartt really managed to realistically present a profile of a person so traumatized by losses that is destroying himself. Even though Theodore Decker is not exactly the nicest person in the world, after everything he has been through, it is kind of hard to imagine him as anything else but the kind of person he is.
Besides Theodore, this novel offers a plethora of characters surronding the main hero. While the first person narration offers us a very limited view on them, I believe they are better developed than in a lot of novels with that kind of narration. They did not feel like tools to progress the plot or to comment upon our main hero’s journey but people with their own inner and outer world that Theodore stumbled into. Even Theodore’s mother, whose unexpected and brutal death propels the events of the novel is not romanticized by him, as he makes a comment about her flaws, thus making her more realistic and more than a fleeting memory in his head. On the other hand, in depiction of his father and father’s girfriend that show up out of blue after years of no contact, Tartt effectively shows the realities of addiction and how easy it is to actually become one, as evident in Theodore’s decline with Boris. The biggest surprise to me the character of Mrs Barbour, Theodore’s best friend’s mother who takes him in after his mother’s death. Although at first she comes across as caring more about the antiques than her own family, throughout the book, it becomes very clear that she is actually a woman with a big heart in which there is room for Theodore as well as her own children. The only character I feel did not reach its maximum in the novel is Pippa, a girl that Theodore saw just before the explosion in the museum, that he finds through a chain of events. Just like others, she is given through his eyes, but as he is desperately in love with and borderline obsessed with her, that is the only window through which he sees her. Although she is a side character, as she only sporadically appears in Theodore’s life, I feel like with a bit more space, her depictions of dealing with trauma that she has in common with him would have served as an even bigger testament to how severe and life altering this event was. However, this is not to say that she is not a strong character, but rather that I wanted a bit more of her story from her own mouth and mind. What do you think about the other characters in the novel? Do you agree with me and who is your favorite?
The Goldfinch is often called Dickensian novel and with almost 900 pages, it is easy to see why. Tartt’s style of writing is extremely descriptive, almost lyrical in its nature. There is no denying that she is a very skillful writer, but at times, detailed descriptions of everything around our characters can become tiring. If you are someone who likes to read beautiful descriptions, I am sure that this will not be an issue for you, but in my case I felt like it has significantly slowed down the plot and at times made it hard to follow the course of action. With that being said, though, I have enjoyed passages about art and chair upholstering, with latter being something I have never taken any kind of particular interest in. The main character often goes into long inner monologues in which he discusses the nature of art and life and overall tries to get himself out of the slump his life has become. To be completely honest, often times I found myself skimming over these parts, as closer to the end of the book, it was becoming more and more tedious to read and pay attention to his thoughts. At times, it felt like Tartt was writing to admire herself on her style, but with sentences sometimes half a page long at times it was hard to share that admiration with her. What did you think of her style? More specifically, do you think comparisons with Dickens are warranted?
Still, the biggest let down for me was the ending. The action scenes and returning the painting in Amsterdam are quite exciting and I enjoyed reading them. But what followed was a dreadful pages long description of Theodore’s desparation that made me feel incredibly anxious to read and think about. Even the very end, in which he is trying to correct his wrongs is quite frankly very condensending on the part of the author as she basically tries to explains the motives and the message of the novel, which was just completely unnecessary. After all, she spent so many pages before explaining it all that there is no point reviewing it with her readers again.
At the end of this review, I realize that I have not reach the concesus within myself about this novel. While her writing style is beautiful and her control of language admirable, long descriptions of every detail of surrondings becomes a bit tired after couple of chapters. On the other hand, I believe that the narrator choice works on multiple levels and I did appreciate the not so pretty picture of his self destructivness. This is definetely not the book for everyone, as somebody with less patience would probably give up the moment they see its volume. However, if you are a fan of Dickens and you enjoy physhological and coming of age stories, I believe that you should try and finish this book, as it does have a lot to offer. Did you read this book and if so what did you think? Is there something important that I have missed upon in this review?