I know, it's been forever since I've done any book reviews! There are a few reasons for that, one being that I reread the entire Outlander series and if you've seen those books, well that's reason enough. But the other reason is this book, which is also really long but without the intense pull of Outlander. Donna Tartt wrote The Secret History, which I loved and wrote about, so I figured I'd love The Goldfinch too since I'd been hearing so much more about it than I ever did about The Secret History. AND it won the Pulitzer Prize!
Honestly, I was a little disappointed... but, only a little. Let me explain.
The story starts really strong. Our main character, Theo, is a young teenager when he and his mother are in an art museum that's targeted in a terrorist attack. Before the explosion goes off, Theo sees a redheaded girl and instantly falls in love with her. The explosion goes off and kills Theo's mother, but Theo is safe and finds the redheaded girl's elderly companion, who is dying and gives Theo his ring and, Theo believes, urges him to take this famous painting, "The Goldfinch." Theo takes the painting and escapes the building.
“Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?”
― Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
From there, we trace the next fifteen or so years of Theo's life, seeing the effects of these few moments. He is always conflicted about keeping "The Goldfinch," always pining for the redheaded girl from the museum, and of course missing his mother.
If the book had continued on in the vein of these things, I think I would have loved it as much as I had expected to, but it REALLY takes the long way around plot-wise. It's a very long book, which is fine sometimes, but Theo has so many experiences that Tartt disconnects from these really cool beginning ideas. It makes a lot of the book feel pointless. Sure, one event leads to the next, but so much time is spent with irrelevant story and characters that halfway through the book I really started to check out. And then the ending was such a departure and so lackluster that I wound up very disappointed. I won't talk about it extensively because I hate spoiling story for others, but I definitely had higher hopes.
(Sort of spoilery, so don't read this paragraph if you haven't read it, but I kept wondering why everyone around Theo seemed to die? It didn't seem like Theo was ever a cause, so it couldn't be some thematic dark cloud following Theo... more like a convenient way for the author to move Theo from place to place. Whoops, this character is dead, time for Theo to move on... etc. I don't know. I'm not a fan of abundant meaningless character deaths...)
Anyone who has read a review by me before knows that I love a book based on the characters. Theo, the narrator and main character, is... okay. I don't love him or dislike him. I often feel for him and his crappy situation, but he doesn't seem very special to me. To me, the mark of a strong character is knowing exactly who they are and even when they do the wrong thing you smile and say "oh but that is so ____!" and it's okay. With Theo, you kind of never know how far he will go, how good/bad he is, or who he is at all. Which, granted, is one of the things he talks about constantly... not knowing who he himself is. And actually, thinking about it now, he's sort of similar to the protagonist from The Secret History, who always seems to be surrounded by other characters who are more interesting.
Only what is that thing? Why am I made the way I am? Why do I care about all the wrong things, and nothing at all for the right ones? Or, to tip it another way: how can I see so clearly that everything I love or care about is illusion, and yet--for me, anyway--all that's worth living for lies in that charm? ― Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
Pippa, the redheaded girl Theo falls in love with, is rarely in the story at all, which I think is a mistake. Part of the point, I guess, is that Theo loves her instantly without needing to know her. But another part of the point is that they're always connected after this horrible incident. I think the story would have been stronger with more Pippa. We get glimpses of how the explosion changed her life, but she deals with it so differently from Theo and I would have liked to see how it affected her REALLY. Also, she's just a lot more likable than Theo ;)
Other great characters? Boris (frustrating and not all that likable but interesting), Hobie aka Hagrid, and even Kitsey is kind of interesting in a mysterious way that we never understand.
Who will like this book?
Well, a lot of people like this book. When I read the reviews on Amazon there's definitely a huge array of opinions on The Goldfinch. Some hate it, some love it, and most of them are kind of in between like me. There are a lot of rambles about things that don't matter, and that seems to bother most people. It did bother me. I think a great writer knows that conciseness is harder than the meandering ramble. This blog is a great example of how easy it is to ramble aimlessly ;)
But who will ENJOY The Goldfinch? I think this book is more story heavy than rich in character, so if that's what you enjoy, you'll like this. That's not to say the characters are bad. They're not. It's just that the characters don't seem to be the point of emphasis.
Portions of this book are page-turning. Portions are tedious. It's just a great mix of everything, so it's a little hard to describe. I, personally, am shocked it won the Pulitzer prize. I think it's a good book, worthy of being read, but not great. Doesn't make my top fifty. Would never reread it. Skipped portions because I was so bored. But, when a book is really not good, I just close it. There are too many great books out there for me to waste time reading something I don't enjoy. Something about The Goldfinch made me keep reading. Maybe because I'd invested so much time in it already, I just needed to see if the end would redeem it, but maybe not.
I apologize for this very confusing book review, but I think it has to be a little confusing for me to describe all these conflicting feelings. If you've read it, I'd love to know your thoughts and if you haven't, I'd love to know the impression I've made on you! Leave it in the comments! :)