Book Review: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Contemporary
Literary Awards: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2014), National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee for Fiction (2013), Goodreads Choice Nominee for Fiction (2013), Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee (2014), Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction (2014), Paris Review Best of the Best (2013).
ISBN 0316239879
1240 pages
Goodreads, Books Depository

Hypes, other than being mass market tools for confusion, are double edged swords. They can easily bring the object in question to stupefying heights, and just as easily bring it six feet under due to disappointment inflicted and an overall unmet satisfaction. The Goldfinch is one of those books that appear to bask in justified hype (‘Omg, Dickensian!’), and such words aren’t thrown around lightly, right?

Theodore Decker’s life is the kind of fucked up you would say you’re sorry for but  thank your lucky stars deep in your heart that such bad luck didn’t befall on yours. Having been caught smoking in school, Theo braces himself as he and his mother make their way down to the principal’s office on an otherwise sunny, uneventful Tuesday morning. Sunny soon turns to rainy as a terrorist bomb goes off in the museum they made a special stop for, killing his mother and signifying the start of a downward spiral into despondency. On his way out of the wreckage, Theo (for whatever reason) takes with him Carel Fabritius’s masterpiece, The Goldfinch, as well as a bejeweled ring that was behest to him, both of which would serve as his lifelines later in life.

Coming of age stories can be really fun to read. We are taken on fictional journeys that mirror some of our own, and are comforted that we are not alone in our personal struggles which can seem so lonely at times. We watch as the characters grow into adults, and feel a sense of completion and satisfaction, much like how a parent would feel, whether their children turn out to be successful or not.

Unfortunately, Theo’s not such a protagonist. The first half of the book is swamped with self pity and anxiety. Anxiety so tiresome that it warranted several I-can’t-take-this-anymore moments. Granted that he suffers from PTSD, yet strangely the writing just doesn’t make one empathize at all. It might have been Theo’s tendency to run away from responsibilities and subsequently blaming his actions on ‘the situation’, but there was just no boundary drawn. He wallows and mops and lends himself to addiction with no seeming restraint, even in his middle ages. He makes poor decisions, regard bad influences as his best pals and does not have (even the slightest) courage to face up to reality, no matter how in-his-face it might be. It’s kind of like hanging out with a friend who you really adore but just can’t seem to get his act together, even when he’s mid-30, and you feel like plucking all your hair out watching him do the things he does.

Unlike Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Tartt’s novel lacked finesse in that it continued to drag on and on on a tangent of information overload. Abundant and sometimes repetitive descriptions on Theo’s addiction could have been condensed in such that it featured more of Theo’s psyche as he descended into drug-induced ecstasy and how such moments often led him to images of his mother, and how the painting was the last link that tied him to her. Instead, we get yet another narrative of how he grounds white powder and inhales said powder through his nose. Too much was written on how he sees and perceives and hence, too much was neglected on his overall psyche, fear, and his way of stress management.

All’s not over (yet). In fact, the last chapter took the cake. Theo experiences a sudden understanding of himself and proceeds to preach in detail (omg, no more please) of his awareness. As much as I’d like to feel joyous about the milestone, such sudden perceptions seemed like it could have been weaved in throughout the 11 chapters in order to better showcase maturity. Afterall, emotional maturity often comes slowly like water seeping into a ship instead of a hasty afterthought. It was as if Tartt decided to lump all of adult Theo’s emotions and thoughts into the final 200 pages, slap the dust off her hands, and rid herself of the chore that is writing.

Overall, The Goldfinch had a lot going on for it, but sadly failed to deliver. Many sides of the story that could have been developed better just wasn’t due to an obsession on descriptions and more descriptions on things that we already know.

Rating: 3/5 stars

How was The Goldfinch for you? Have you read any of Tartt’s other works?


2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Goldfinch

  1. I LOVED the Goldfinch. I can totally understand the hype train (choo-choo!) that can bring diminishing returns. I haven’t read her other works, but I should. Her characters are rich in texture and detail.


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