Book review: the Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

It’s been a while since I read a book I couldn’t put down. Like, I’ve read a lot of good books and a lot of books I’ve enjoyed and a lot of books that held my interest and made me think. But not a book that I couldn’t stop reading, that I thought about all the time, and that I had trouble putting down. Until I read this one. I read this book whenever I could for basically five days. I read it on the beach, next to the pool, in car rides, before I went to bed, on my plane, waiting in the airport. I was addicted.

The book is about Theodore Decker. Theo survives a terrorist bombing in an art gallery when he is thirteen. He also walks out of the art gallery with the Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, not because he intends to sell it, but because he believes it’s the right thing to do (he explains his thoughts while doing it but spoilers!). The rest of the book revolves around Theo’s life and how he deals with the fact that he’s hiding and accidentally stole a priceless piece of artwork.

First thing’s first: this is a long book. Like I mentioned, I read it basically non-stop for five days and felt like every time I read it, I made no progress. I read it for almost five hours on a nine hour flight and only got through about 30% of it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it meant the book lasted longer and I could enjoy it for longer. But, it also means you need to have a lot of time available to devote to this book, as you could easily forget what happens.

Also, it is a slow book in terms of plot. There is a plot, but the big conflict doesn’t really happen until near the end of the book. The rest is really just Theo explaining his life and while it’s exciting and there is conflict and such, it’s not an action book by any means. It’s written very memoir-like. In some ways, it’s a fictional memoir, if that’s a thing (according to wikipedia, it’s a Bildungsroman). Those are my favourite, the slow but interesting ones. I’m always really interested in people’s lives in general, so a books describing someones life is the best to me. 

It is beautifully written. There’s a reason it won a Pulitzer, and I can really see why. Honestly, even when Theo was describing something practically meaningless, I was still captivated. It is very easy to read while still being descriptive and beautiful. It’s so descriptive. I have a clear picture in my head about everything, except for Theo’s mom, which I think is the point really. But every character, place, mood, I can picture it exactly. This does mean it is a little verbose, but not pretentiously so. It just means you can place everything. It also helps to see Theo’s development as he gets older and when he uses different substances. Different things are described and the language he uses changes. Tart also uses different languages to set the scene. For example, Theo’s closest friend, Boris, is Russian, so he occasionally speaks Russian when he’s drunk or high.

The characters are also all so good and complex but not annoyingly so. Not complex in that they’re all dark and mysterious, but complex in that they all have different backgrounds and histories that lead them to where they are now. They are all very distinct and you can really tell who Theo is interacting with. I find a lot of books don’t always change the language when other characters are speaking; like, books written in the first person are always in the language of the narrator, which makes it hard to read sometimes as it’s always monotonous. But on the other hand, some books try too hard and change the language too drastically, which is also not realistic. Tartt manages to change the voice when others are speaking while keeping it subtle.

In terms of a hidden message or anything, nothing was glaringly obvious to me, except at the end when it’s literally written there (eloquently explained by Boris). Sometimes bad things have to happen for good things to happen and vice versa and not everything can be put into the categories of “good” and “bad.” A pretty simple message, but a good one still. There’s probably more, and the characters probably mean more than I was getting at, but I read books without analyzing them too much. If this was for my English class, I could go on about how Mrs. Barbour symbolizes one part of Theo while Xandra symbolizes the opposite and Platt is one thing and Hobie another and Pippa is something really important and Popchyk is really the most important part. But, I also think symbols and meaning depend on the reader, so what I think might not be what someone else thinks but they’re both perfectly valid.

Before I rant on anymore about hidden meaning (I could make a whole post about my opinion on that tbh), I’ll just say who I think this book would be well-suited for. I think it’s definitely for a more mature audience, but I also think anyone could read it. If you don’t enjoy lengthy descriptions and page-long paragraphs, don’t read this book. If you don’t like books where not much happens and the plot is slower and it’s more just the narrator describing their life, don’t read this book. If you like memoirs and appreciate good writing that isn’t too pretentious, I think you’ll enjoy this book.

It’s just a really well written book, honestly. I could sing more praise, but I’d just be repeating myself. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

the_goldfinch_by_donna_tart

Ally xx

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