I feel like a speck of dust on a spinning top that kept going and going and going until plop – it fell over. The last section of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (and scattered throughout the entire novel) are sections of writing that whirl and spin, and it isn’t until I reached the final period of the final sentence before I felt the relief of the plop. So, while I am still catching my breath from the 775 pages of Pulitzer Prize-winning words, I figure now is as good a time as any to try and review this novel.
The Goldfinch is Donna Tartt’s most acclaimed novel, landing her a spot on TIME 100: The 100 Most Influential People in 2014 and winning the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It also happens to be her first published book in 11 years, joining her other two novels The Secret History (1992) and The Little Friend (2002). The Little Friend won the WH Smith Literary Award in 2003, but The Goldfinch‘s success far surpasses that of her prior novels. (After all, it put Tartt on the map for Vanity Fair’s International Best Dressed List of 2014. Need I say more?)
So, now that I’ve told you how much everyone else liked this novel, let me tell you a little bit about the book and whether or not I liked it.
The Goldfinch tells the story of Theodore (Theo) Decker, the ultimate tragic character. It begins with his trip to an art museum In New York City with his mother when Theo is a young teen – no more than 13 years old. This fateful jaunt at the museum sets into motion the trajectory of the rest of his life as readers know it. Throughout the rest of the story, the book follows Theo in and out of cities – from New York City to Las Vegas to Amsterdam and beyond – and in and out of others’ lives – an old antiquaire and his captivating young niece, a gambling dad with a drug dealing girlfriend, and an alcoholic, no-regrets Russian immigrant schoolmate, to name a few. However, the most important character in the book besides Theo isn’t a person at all. It’s an object, and it is the force around which Theo’s entire existence seems to orbit.
By the time the story reaches its end, Theo is a young man in his late 20s. His voice (in Tartt’s writing), which has become familiar to the reader at that point, is authentic to its 13-year-old roots while still portraying the gradual maturity that Theo has gained over the years of the novel. It is a true skill not to lose the character’s voice among so many tumultuous changes and life stages; after all, the passing of time can make even our own voices unrecognizable to ourselves at times. (I have diaries from 13-year-old Rachel to prove that.)
While Tartt’s writing style excels in that regard, there were a few habits that began to wear on me after 775 pages. Whenever she’s writing about teenagers and their thoughts? or maybe it’s a scene where two people are having a conversation? she gets really question mark-happy like I’m doing here and it kind of makes me angry? …You get my point. I understand we all speak aloud that way from time to time – it can help us convey uncertainty or shyness in conversation. But it got really tiring as a reader, even though it did help establish the tone of the thoughts/dialogue/etc. in the novel.
My other personal opinion on her writing goes back to the “spinning top” analogy in the beginning of this post. I. Could. Not. Catch. My. Breath. While a large part of the novel meanders and delves deeply into the plotline (while still keeping my attention – a masterful skill on Tartt’s part), other parts of the novel race on like this – where Theo’s thoughts are scattered and he just keeps thinking that maybe he’ll do one thing but what if Boris leaves? and then where will the next meal come from if he’s not there and what about his jacket at the apartment with his keys in it…Get my point? Run-on sentences and loosely associated thought patterns galore. (FYI- Totally fabricated sentence there. Just showing my utter lack of Tartt’s elegance 😉 ) This style of writing perfectly matches Theo’s mental state at times, and seeing as he is the narrator it is probably hard to avoid but…geeze. As a reader I got tired of being in his head even for glimpses at a time!
So, ultimately, I see why this novel won awards and I did enjoy reading it even if it was exhausting and annoying at times. It was different from any novel I’ve read recently and dealt with intriguing themes such as fate and chance, aesthetic beauty, and human bonds across time and space. I wanted a long novel to sink my teeth into for awhile, and this book definitely delivered on that end.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Stats: 775 pages
Recommended for: Those who love a good story that weaves a character’s story so thoroughly into every page that they become alive to readers. This book is challenging in that its characters were people that I simultaneously could absolutely not relate to in some ways and could totally relate to in others. I recommend this book for anyone looking for a novel for the long haul of colder months coming up. It was the perfect way to curl up and get lost in a story on many chilly evenings for me.
Up Next: I need recommendations…let the search begin!