The Goldfinchby Published 22 Oct 2013
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 unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
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 at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
The Goldfinch combines vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher's calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.
"The Goldfinch" Reviews
So listen. Look. I am a READER, right? I mean, I read all the time, everywhere, every day, a book a week. But most of the time the book I'm reading is a dull throb beneath my fingers, a soft hum behind my eyes, a lovely way to spend a bit of time in between things as I meander through my life. You know? It's something I adore, but softly, passively, and often forgetfully—very nice while it's happening, but flitting away quickly after I'm on to the next.
And then sometimes there is a book that is more like a red hot fucking coal, a thrum nearly audible whenever I'm close to it, a magnetic pull that stops me doing anything else and zings me back so strongly that I just want to bury myself in its tinnitus at all times—five minutes in line a the bank, two minutes in the elevator, thirty seconds while my coffee date checks her email—gorging myself with sentences and paragraphs until the whole world recedes and shrivels into flat black-and-white nothing.
This, this, this is one of those books. It's a book that bracingly reaffirms my faith in literature, making me endlessly astonished by its power and poise and brilliance. I know I am constantly chided for hyperbole, but this is truly one of the greatest books I've ever read.
Probably it's a result of the endless march of mediocre books that plague the publishing industry these days—self-pub and traditional; I'm holding the major presses hella accountable too—but a book like this, so full and deep and flawlessly constructed, is just such a shock, such a pure clear joy. Every element is fucking perfect. Every element, truly! The plot, the characters, the pacing, the tone, all the little details, so so many tiny details, all perfectly, astonishingly slotted into place; the patois and the slang and the dialogue and the descriptions, oh my god the descriptions, from a smile to a chandelier to a mood; even the goddamn chapter epigraphs, which, who even reads those? But they're perfect, she's perfect, this book is just a knock-down, drag-out wonder.
And it covers so much ground, with no shortcuts: from the Upper West Side moneyed elite to gambling addicts in the suburbs of Vegas, from a Lower East Side drug den for decadents gone to seed to the charming Christmastime streets of Amsterdam. Nothing is two-dimensional: if a characters restores furniture, you will learn so goddamn much about wood and veneers and myriad adherents; if another is a sailor, you will feel the wind in your hair and the goddamn spray of surf on your cheeks.
Philosophy, art history, baccarat, heroin. Proust, childhood bullies, Russian drug-dealers. The cut of a jewel, the play of light through a crooked blind. The way a small dog remembers someone it hasn't seen in ten years. The way the very rich handle mental illness in the family. The way a teenage boy feels after taking acid for the first time. The bonds between people that last a lifetime, many lifetimes. The power of art to change a life, to change a million lives; the immortality of a work of art and the line of beauty that connects generation after generation of appreciators. How it feels to be always and ever in love with the wrong person—and how perfect and perfectly flawed she is, or he is, all the same. The way people age. The way people cling to each other at the wrongest of times, in the unlikeliest ways. The way people talk, my god, there is a Russian character (probably the best character in the book) who learned to speak English in Australia and you can really hear that fucking incomprehensible accent, the hitch of verbs mis-conjugated in just the right ways, the tossing out of slang words in four different languages, so casual and so perfectly apt. The way a life is made of recurrences, circlings back and back, openings out and out and out.
What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can't be trusted—? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all that blandly held common virtues and instead straight toward a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster? If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to run away? Ignore all the perverse glory your heart is screaming at you? Or is it better to throw yourself headfirst and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?
Five stars, five hundred stars, five million. ALL THE GODDAMN STARS FOR DONNA TARTT FOREVER.
Audible. OH MY GAWD! Who ARE you people giving this 5 star raves? I'm not even half way yet and I'm wondering if I will be able to weather this ridiculously long book that keeps getting sidetracked by just about every teenage pothole you can think of.
And can we talk about motherless orphans? I've lost track of how many motherless main characters are in this book. How can I be this far out of touch with other reviewers?
Halfway thru now. Spending lots of energy trying to be less harsh and trying to enjoy the ride tartt is taking me on. But I am not succeeding. This book is utter ridiculousness. Not believable at ALL. and this morning my friend informed me it was named Book of the Year. I'm speechless.
Three quarters done. Bottom line: Theo has become a very unlikeable guy. The pages and pages of minutia detail -- often building intrigue and suspense -- are pointless and often left unresolved. Reading this book reminds me of watching the tv show Lost. You think "MAN. I wonder how they are going to explain that polar bear!" Only to wait four more years and find out that they never do.
Oh. My. Gosh. I just finished. The ending does not disappoint. What a diaphanous extravaganza of words. Of lists. Of never-ending stream of consciousness pompoonery. Yes. I made that word up. It's the merging of pompous and tom-foolery. Is Tartt serious? Can she really be seriously presenting up this book with a straight face? The ending is... Utterly astonishingly perfectly awful. If you are reading this and wondering if you should finish the book. Yes. Do it. Then report back here. I need the company.
**Update on 4/1/14
After 400+ comments to this review that was never meant for any purpose other than my own entertainment so that I might remember the book, I feel the need to add the following:
To anyone wondering if they should still read this book, since reviewers are so divided (eg you either LOVE it or HATE it) : by all means, YES. Read it! But: if you find you are hating it within 100 pages, just put it down and walk away. Because it won't ever get better for you (Really. do as I say and not as I do: Put. It. Down.). For those who LOVE this book: Good for you! I am truly happy for you. There is nothing better than a book you love! ---Now move along, because the 9+ pages of comments here are for those who don't and will just make you mad. :)
The Goldfinch is a brilliant story with memorable characters and most of the book is incredibly well done and fun to read.
"Most" being the operative word.
Tartt needed an editor to cut out a lot of the repetitive detail (Like several other reviewers, I too found myself page skimming -- sometimes the detail is fascinating, oftentimes it's unnecessary and just slows down the story.)
There are a few other nits a good editor could have fixed, e.g. the internet makes cameo appearances but it's inconsistent - characters will make use of it in the way people do in 2013 but then later in the same scene they seem to forget it exists (and there's much more of the latter than the former-- Tartt recently did an interview with the New York Times where she admits to only using the web "to look up phone numbers" and her unfamiliarity is pretty evident, which is a problem in a novel whose main protagonists are 20somethings), a number of key plot points are telegraphed way in advance in a manner that feels more heavy-handed than than skillful, there are minor-but-critical unexplained plot points (e.g. why Theo's mother never considered leaving his father) whose omission seems curious in a novel that goes into such minute detail about everything else. And then of course there are the adult Theo's relationships with women, all of which seem overly chaste and prim and bloodless (especially compared to his relationship with Boris)-- even when he professes otherwise.
There's a lot of Great Expectations in this novel-- I can't imagine it's coincidence that one of the main characters is called Pippa-- and Tartt frequently uses Dickens beloved device of the happy coincidence to move the plot forward. Usually Tartt makes the device work, but there are other times where the plot twists seem plucked from a forgettable TV movie of the week.
The final chapter could also have used some heavier editing--" philosophizing" is a great way to end Theo's story, but the chapter just drags on forever, like a well meaning guest who won't stop saying goodbye.
I gave it 4 stars because it's a really masterful story and the fairy tale quality makes it markedly different from so much of modern fiction. I just wish the editors would have had a heavier hand.
I, Boris, character in this book will give you honest opinion. Very honest. If you are reading this, asking yourself, should I read this book which is 771 pages? Very heavy, not that The Idiot was not 656 pages, so not length I am afraid of. If you are wondering, should I read? I answer for you already and say no! I am one of best things in book, at least not all the time moody, gloomy and so stupid I do not not even look in package. Even though I am very important character I must tell you, not worth your time to read this. (Okay to read beginning, some middle, end) but if was me, better to be having a pop than all the time reading about depressed guy who wastes so many good drugs. Bad things happen. All the time bad things. Does not mean cannot enjoy life. Does not mean should make many people spend very much money on depressing book. Not to say is not masterpiece to some people but why spend money on this misery. Cannot all own masterpiece. Potter think he is only one lose mother. In book we none of us have mother. Does not take 771 pages to figure this out. I would maybe read this if just 400 pages, as long as there would not be such long stretches without me. Potter needs me all the time. Not good without me. His one girl, Pippa, is smart not to let him make her into mother. If I was my good friend Theodore Decker and could not enjoy life at all I would do better job at killing self.
Also honest opinion on how they say everyone is reading this book. If I tell you jump off cliff, you do it? Many times I drag Potter from middle of road where he claims to be waiting for car. Did I tell him lie in street? No. So I tell you. Only good thing can come from reading this book (maybe not even need to finish) is lots to talk about with people. Much discussion. Maybe if book from library or stolen worth it? But to buy own heavy copy? Could not even drop in canal without Dutch police all over you. Is better this way. "Trust me."
Theo Decker’s mother is killed in a bombing that rocks the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Theo, unharmed, escapes with a valuable painting called The Goldfinch. He carries this symbol of grief and loss from early adolescence into an adulthood fraught with danger and beset by addiction. The long middle sequence, set in a housing development on the seedy, sand-blown outskirts of Las Vegas, is a standout. Tartt proves that the Dickensian novel—expansive and bursting with incident—is alive and well.