The Goldfinch



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.

The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius

The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius

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.

Last Words

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

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  • bellezza

    Boris was one of my favorite characters, and I, too, cringed over Theo’s foolish choices. In fact, even though I liked the novel very much (although not as much as The Secret History) I was distressed at the hopelessness. Donna Tartt seems to have a very bleak outlook on life, which I can’t adhere to with my whole heart. To me, there are tragedy’s, and then we must overcome them. And that is not said lightly, as I lost my first husband twelve years into our marriage by his death.

    • Nishita

      @bellezza:disqus I have to read The Secret History. Everyone’s telling me it is so much better :).

      Exactly, terrible things happen, and yes, we can lose our way for some time, but Theo seemed to be self-destructive for more than a decade, and that was difficult to read about.

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  • Sounds too long and too full of “should I keep reading moments” for me. But I do love that it’s an actual painting.

    • Nishita

      @disqus_EEI6Da4ah1:disqus There were a few should I keep reading moments, but in the end the payoff was good. I really liked the book, and though it was very uneven for me, it’s one that I will remember for a long time. I do want to reread portions of it again at some point.

  • Tanya Patrice

    I liked your review and felt very similar. This book was up and down for me, but the ending – oh my gosh! The book was already a long read – we could have done without the :philosphical musings” at the end.

    Tanya Patrice

    • Nishita

      @Tanya Patrice: agree with you. But at the same time, it was the middle that I struggled with the most. Theo’s life in New York as an adult seemed to be going nowhere. The philosophy at the end seemed tacked on, but I didn’t mind it all that much.

  • matheikal

    Liked your review. It’s a book that evoked mixed feelings in me.

    • Nishita

      same here @matheikal :). Thanks for visiting and commenting 🙂

  • There are definitely problems with The Goldfinch, but I just loved Boris. He’s my favorite character from everything I read last year. I need to reread this! The only reason I haven’t done it yet is that it’s a daunting reread, being so huge.

    • Nishita

      @readingtheend:disqus Oh, yes, agree with you there. Boris made the book for me. In spite of the drug use and violence, such a positive character. I loved him.

  • Zoë

    Excellent review! This was the best book I read this year, too. I really loved it. I know it was long, but I thoroughly enjoyed Tartt’s writing style, so I got lost in the writing, not drowned in it. Boris was an awesome character. This book does resonate in places, when she hits that emotional nail on the head she does it wonderfully. I am glad to see that you enjoyed it for the majority of it.

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