Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Finally getting around to writing a review for my new favourite book so far this year. Although I realise that I might have said that about the previous one…
I always let myself read reviews after I finish a book so I can form my own opinion and after doing so this time around, I - very excitedly - discovered that there’s actually a bit of controversy surrounding The Goldfinch.
The gist of it is that people are comparing it to Breaking Bad; you know, the kind of cocktail hour conversation starter that – if you’re someone who hasn’t watched it – would rather knock that person out with a blunt object than to answer ‘no’. Of which you’ll be hearing ‘oh my god, I can’t believe it. You have to watch it’. For the millionth time.
I’m a huge fan of Breaking Bad so I’ve never had that conversation but I can understand the feeling. But listen, The Goldfinch is actually that good in spite of the over-hype that people claim.Vanity Fair’s "It's Tartt -- But Is It Art?" asks the question of what makes a work of literature, and who gets to decide?
I’ll be the first to say that I can (kind of) see where some of the critics are coming from and even agree with them but as a whole, this 800-something page behemoth that took Donna Tartt 11 years to write, is well worth it. I would even say it’s a bit of a must-read for book lovers.
At the centre of the book is a masterpiece by the Dutch painter Fabritius called ‘The Goldfinch’. He’s considered a lost genius because not many of his pieces have survived. The theme of loss clearly resonates throughout the book. The book follows the adolescence and adulthood of Theo, a New Yorker who is faced with the loss of his mother, with whom he was very close to.
At the same event, he acquires ownership of this painting. In a way, it accompanies him and provides solace as he’s forced to confront PTSD, abandonment, daddy issues, delinquency, drug abuse, and everything in between. Eventually, his ownership of the painting brings him into the art underworld.
I suppose it’s up to the reader to ultimately decide what role ‘The Goldfinch’ plays in his life – is its significance overplayed? What gap does it fill in his mind? There’s so much in between – a love story, too many amazing characters to count. Boris reminds me so much of this friend of mine I’m going to tell him to audition for that character for the film adaptation.
“Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?”
As I said, I loved the book. But two main criticisms for it are that (1) the writing is childish and that it’s (2) riddled with stock characters. I definitely disagree with both.
Maybe more intellectually-minded readers may find the writing childish, but I personally don’t know where this is coming from. On the flip-side, I thought that Donna Tartt’s ability to weave through Theo’s mind is really astounding since it spans from boyhood to man and the fact that he’s forced to deal with so much. She uses stream-of-consciousness narration from time-to-time and they’re amazing.
The second point is that there are stock characters. Okay, on the surface there is the seemingly sheltered rich girl but who’s also a bit broken, loving older gentleman who encases everyone around him with comforting hospitality, drunken detached father who dates an insufferable woman who doesn’t give a shit about his child, and down-to-earth and quirky love interest who possesses irresistibly charming qualities (also bookish).
But they’re never just that. I found that they surprised me and I definitely cared about them. And at the centre of this is Theo – an endlessly complex character. Naivety vs. worldliness, childish arrogance vs. biting insecurity, emotionally bankrupt vs. hopeless romantic. He’s a hard one to crack.
So I hope this was even slightly helpful and please let me know if you agree with the Vanity Fair article. Until next time! XO