The Goldfinch: A Quick Review

GoldfinchI’m feeling somewhat proud of myself for slogging through this eight-hundred page tome, a rush job more or less, since digital library loans have a 3-week check-out time limit. It being a more or less frigid winter here in the Northeast, after the dogs have been out umpteen times in a day and after the kitchen’s been cleaned up, sitting down to a good book is a welcome way to unwind.

The quick and dirty synopsis of this book amounts to this: a young boy’s encounter with tragedy, along with an important piece of artwork, becomes the defining thread, for good or bad, that shapes his life well into his twenties. In retrospect, I’m wondering how the author managed to hold my interest for so long, as much of the book delved into Theo’s experience with the drug culture–something that will often turn me away from a story. Instead, I found myself needing to trail after him into each new segment of his life. (An Amazon reviewer described the book as a “series of novellas” which is somewhat fitting, the way you move with him from one saga to the next). I wanted to shake him when he made bad decisions. I wanted to slap his father who dragged him off to the other side of the country and I wanted Theo to speak up for himself, to say what he really wanted (or didn’t want). At times, I wanted to yell after him, “Just tell her how you really feel!” (Yes, there are girls involved).

Aside from the drug scenarios, I had several beefs with this book. One of those was the author’s affinity for excruciatingly long sentences. I can take a few of those well-crafted sentences, especially when they convey the inner workings of a character’s mind and his reflections on life, but too many can take away from a good story.

My other trifling gripe is the way the second half of the book seemed to take a bit of a nose dive in terms of plot and plausibility. It was as if the author was so into the craft of storytelling that the story itself was somewhat neglected. It lingered and floundered in a few places and I felt myself glossing over sections in hopes that things would turn around (which they usually did).

Perhaps because it was told in first person, or perhaps because much of story revolved around art and antiques and a few truly lovable, good characters, for whatever reason–I felt dragged into the story and compelled to stay. Apparently there is an official genre for this kind of book–Bildungsroman–which traces the moral and psychological growth of the main character–and in that respect, this story has the kind of internal movement I appreciate, although it was certainly long in coming.

The Goldfinch does not disappoint. I won’t give the ending away (I hate spoilers) but I would call it a satisfying one. I’m glad I don’t have to love or agree with every bit of every book I read, and I’m equally glad I’ve learned to read and appreciate a much broader spectrum of stories than I did ten or twenty years ago. I would probably give this book an easy four stars, call it “good,” and based on some other reviews, I look forward to reading some other offerings by Donna Tartt.

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