A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother.
Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets.
He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother, a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld.
~ Synopsis from the back of the book
First up, I never realized until I wrote this review that the goldfinch is an actual painting by a real artist. Seriously, the whole time I thought the entire story about the painting and the artist was made up. It was only while doing a casual google for a better image of the goldfinch did I realize it was real.
And what a painting it is. I can understand how Donna Tartt was inspired by it to write a whole book revolving around it.
So now after feeling like a total ignoramus, I go into this book review wondering what else I might have missed in this brick (800+ pages) of a novel.
My Thoughts with Big Fat Spoilers
What do I say about a story that is wildly uneven, overlong, that seems to borrow from illustrious predecessors, but ultimately comes into its own and makes the book worth reading? To me, it didn’t quite cut it as a literary masterpiece, but neither was it an overblown, tedious, over-written literary turkey.
I”ll be honest, it swings both ways.
In a way, this is probably the best book I read this year, but there were also many problems that I had with it, and places where I got stuck, wondering whether I should really keep going.
For starters, the first few hundred pages where Theo Decker is mourning his mother’s death seemed all too familiar and depressing for someone who read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close just last year and vowed to stop reading depressing novels. While I liked this part of the book, it felt a bit too much like déjà vu to me.
When the action shifts to Las Vegas, and a new character – Boris is introduced, I started enjoying the book a bit more. Boris is another motherless boy, and to put it mildly is a bad influence on Theo. However, he turns out to be a good friend:
The only friend I made when I was in Vegas, and – as it turned out – one of the great friends of my life.
Frankly, Boris is also one of the best written characters in the book, the book literally is on fire in those sections where Boris is present.
Alas, Boris is only a secondary character. Soon, Theo must go back to New York and make a life for himself. And this is the sad, depressing part of the novel. He gets a wonderful opportunity to stay with someone who loves him and takes good care of him and helps him build a life. Jamie Hobart who becomes like a father figure to Theo is a beautifully written character and I just loved how good he was to Theo.
And what does Theo go and do? He messes up, again, and again, and again.
Ughh! I was just cringing and OMG’ing through these sections. I just found it so depressing and disappointing. Just when I was thinking I really don’t want to continue in this vein, Boris comes back into the picture, and thank God, the story finally moves its focus back to the painting of the goldfinch.
The rest of the book is as fast-paced as any hard-core thriller. I loved the way the book picked up steam and also the way Tartt chose to end it. The ending had a wonderful cathartic quality, and at the end of it, I was mentally high-fiving Boris and Theo.
There are a few pages in the end where Theo and Boris wax philosophical for a while, and I thought it was a bit over-done (and not true to Boris’ character), but by then I was on such a high (and so relieved that the story wasn’t a tragedy) that I didn’t mind even that.
This wasn’t a book that I loved in its entirety. I found Tartt’s penchant for describing everything in detail a little tedious. But so what if I didn’t love all of it? The parts that I loved moved me terribly, and I know that this book and the characters and the philosophy of this book will stay with me for a long, long time.
You can also purchase a copy of this book from Amazon