Donna Tartt’s latest novel, The Goldfinch, reconfirms her love of writing really, really long books. And considering it’s been 11 years since her last novel, needless to say that this one packs a punch. Figuratively and literally. Seriously, if you threw this book at someone’s head, you’d probably knock them out.
An epic novel that spans over the course of Theo Decker’s lifetime, The Goldfinch commences when 13 year old Theo survives a terrorist bombing on a prestigious art gallery in New York City. Not only does Theo survive, but he also, dazedly, steals a masterpiece, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, which was also his mother’s favourite painting. Theo’s mother, whom he also views as his best friend, does not survive the bombing. As Theo’s father left them, Theo is essentially now alone.
Over the course of the next twenty years and 700 pages, we follow Theo as he lives a tumultuous, patchwork quilt of an upbringing. Through the influences of his life; from the wealthy and dignified Mrs Barbour; to his alcoholic, drug-dependent father; to Hobie, Theo creates a life for himself that is as varied and contradictory as his upbringing. Throughout, he still has the stolen piece of art that so strongly ties him to his mother’s memory.
In terms of storytelling, intrigue and skill of writing, I highly recommend this book. Donna Tartt might very rarely release books, but when she does, she does it well. Over the course of The Goldfinch, she creates a character in Theo that is both despicable and heartbreaking all at once. And though his story is so far-fetched that it borders on unbelievable, Tartt has created an environment that is borderline fairytale-esque; it seems ridiculous, but I wanted to continue reading anyway.
Furthermore, The Goldfinch closely examines the variety of emotions that humans feel in horrific circumstances; from grief, to addiction, to abandonment. Although at times his character did frustrate me, I felt that Theo’s dependency of drugs was a realistic portrayal of how someone would act if they’d not only suffered from all-consuming grief, but were also essentially abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Eg, someone whose life and emotion were a wreck. Though, as a reader, you want to reach inside the book and shake Theo to make him clean up his act, it was also far more realistic than many books that only passably mention a terrible drug addiction.
However, overall I did find that The Goldfinch dragged on. While it was absorbing, and I honestly felt very weirdly connected to Theo by the end of the novel, I did also get distracted, a little bored and tired of the storyline. Also, considering the overall length of the novel, the ending was somewhat of a letdown. It felt as though Tartt had put in a huge amount of painstaking time and care in 95% of the novel, only to get sick of Theo and his story and to wind it up quickly. Not only was that a disappointment considering the somewhat lengthy journey that I now viewed I had taken with Theo, but it also didn’t seem to correlate with the overall storyline; not in pace, not in the feel and definitely not in the way that Theo had acted previously over the past 20 years.
I’d recommend reading The Goldfinch if you’re a strong reader who isn’t easily distracted. If you like absorbing tales that will keep you occupied for a couple of weeks, then this is the book for you. However, if you’re not a fast reader, or you view reading as more of a ‘oh I should read so I will’ kind of pastime, then I’d recommend something a bit shorter.
Have you read The Goldfinch or anything by Donna Tartt? Are you a fan of her writing? What do you think of exceptionally long novels? Let me know!