The Goldfinch is a novel I wish I could have taken a weekend, shut myself inside, and read in a couple of sittings. It is that good.
Instead, it ended up being my Everest, a novel that took me months to read, mainly because I was required to read so many other books since the time I initially picked up what would become the Pulitzer Prize winning work of fiction for the year. I continually, and regrettably, had to put the book down many times, and get something else read in the interim. This caused my reading of The Goldfinch to be fractured, and epic.
But in the end, it did not disappoint.
Obviously, when a book wins the Pulitzer, it is pretty universally loved. And this one should be no exception. I have no complaints about the novel, but will add another great review to the thousands that are already out there.
For a brief synopsis, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, is a novel that spans years in the life of our narrator and protagonist, Theo. As a child, he survived an explosion at a New York art museum, that took the life of his beloved mother. During the following mayhem, he ended up taking a painting from the wall, the famous and mysterious “Goldfinch,” which would become one of the more famous missing paintings in the world as his life developed. Theo was tormented and haunted by the memories of his mother, but always had the painting as a reminder of her, of a better time, before tragedy became the centerpiece to his life.
Being forced to leave New York after the death of his mother and a time spent staying with his best friend and his rich Barbour family, Theo moves to Las Vegas, to stay with his degenerate gambler of a father and his questionable girlfriend Xandra.
It is in Las Vegas where Theo finally seems to find his footing, even though it is in all the wrong ways. Befriending Boris, they delve into a world of alcoholism and drugs that is surprising for kids of such a young age. They both drink to escape, as neither of them wants anything to do with reality. Theo is constantly trying to get away from the pain of his lost mother, and his life becomes more reckless in attempts to do so. He creates a pattern in his life that will lead to heartbreak, and some sort of resolution as to who he is, and where he belongs.
The Goldfinch eventually takes us back to New York, where Theo carves out a life for himself in the antiques business, all the while struggling with the addiction to painkillers, and a secret and occasional love of harder drugs, such as dabbling with heroin. He is a constant mess, but somehow makes his way through the world, all the while hiding the deep secret that he is an art thief, and has in his possession one of the most valuable paintings in the world. But it remains there for his comfort, even if years pass without him even looking at it. Just knowing it is there, stashed away in some storage space, is enough for Theo.
Eventually, Theo is dragged into the criminal underworld, while at the same time becoming more a part of the New York social elite, due to his dealings with rich people and their antiques purchases, and his relations with the Barbour family. He becomes a man split between his real, and not so real life, and Tartt takes us on the incredible journey of his life.
The Goldfinch is a rich, and epic story. It spares no detail, adding to the depth of the 771-pages of large paged hardcover. It is a big book, but one that tells a story that is heartbreaking and suspenseful. Through the whole novel, we are forced to wonder about the painting, and what will eventually happen to it. Will it finally bring Theo peace, or will he die in some tragic way, probably due to his self-destructive ways, leaving the painting unfound forever?
Tartt writes with intricate sentences, and long, sprawling paragraphs. Stylistically, she has created a beautiful and complex story, which spares no detail on anything, truly bringing the reader into the life of Theo, and those around him. The detail really is incredible, and it adds a depth to the story that makes us feel as though it is more than fiction: that his story is something real.
One of the strong suits of this work, is how depressing it truly is. As we truck through the pages, we realize that not all things will end well for our hero; that life really isn’t like that, and that he is going to have to face the music for a laundry list of mistakes he has made in his life.
There are hundreds of more detailed reviews of The Goldfinch out there that can examine the true depth and breadth of this novel, and how it is stylistically and culturally significant. From my end, suffice it to say that this is an exceptional novel, one that truly deserves to be recognized as something masterful at this point in time. It reads like a classic novel of a hundred years ago, yet maintains a modernity that makes it an instant, and modern, classic.
For those willing to undertake the journey of The Goldfinch, to explore the depths in which tragedy can affect all of us, it is absolutely a must-read.