book reviews

The Goldfinch

Donna Tartt

Life does not come easy for Theodore Decker. At only 13 years old Theo’s mother is killed in a terrible explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, leaving him to navigate a chaotic and unforgiving world all alone. Left at the mercy of fate, Theo narrates all the tragic and mysterious events of his life that seem to happen as a consequence of the disaster at the MET. Through the complex and confusing characters that pop up in Theo’s life he makes an attempt to find his place in the world and to reconcile with painful emotions that have plagued him ever since that fateful day. 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt expertly blends the powerful human emotions of desperation and despair with the compulsive appreciation of beauty that overwhelms those, like Theo, who value what has potential and what is good in the world. A dark and twisting narrative, this book is all about a painting while simultaneously being not about a painting at all.

Poor Theo just can’t catch a break. He suffers from tragedy after tragedy making it so that, at times, it seems like Tartt has conjured up the worst case scenario for Theo at every point in his life and has written those painful happenings into the narrative. In all 784 pages there is not one reprieve from the lingering darkness and hopelessness that are present in Theo’s life basically from page one. 

Even though I found the novel a bit of a downer (it was a sob-fest, honestly), the extremely detailed writing by Tartt brought forth overwhelming emotions and sympathy for Theo and the other characters spread throughout the novel. Really, The Goldfinch is an extremely in-depth chronicle of Theo’s life, more like a documentary than a plot-based, action filled novel. Nevertheless, I devoured this book and couldn’t put it down – not necessarily because the events were so captivating, but because I needed to know how life panned out for Theo, if things ever got better for him. 

Unexpected was the heavy focus and description of drug and alcohol use that is prevalent throughout the entire novel. Many pages in The Goldfinch are filled with pitiful and upsetting details of how the characters use and abuse drugs and alcohol, only adding to the tragedy of their lives and circumstances. Through this all, though, I still found the deeply developed characters to be commiserating. 

I finished The Goldfinch late at night, I raced through the last one hundred pages because I was so captivated and, more importantly, wanted to go to bed satisfied that I knew how it ended. How wrong I was to do this. Once I flipped to that final page I remained awake for hours trying to come to terms with all those inordinate emotions that the novel unearthed in me.

But isn’t that what you want in a book? To feel something, deeply, once it’s over? I know a book is good when I can’t get it out of my head, when the emotions it made me feel linger long after I’ve read the last word, and The Goldfinch made me do just that.

This isn’t a light read (figuratively and literally), but the writing is so excellent that you want to race right through it. It won’t leave you smiling and satisfied, but it will leave you introspective and moved – and that is an important thing to feel from a book. 

I give The Goldfinch four stars for the wonderful writing and the intricate characters. The unending sadness was a little too much for my liking (hence four stars instead of five), but I respect it, understand it, and grew as a reader from it, and I would highly recommend others to give it a read and explore the profound ideas it reveals for themselves.   

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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