Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Book 4 Review: The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

My fourth book to review of 52 books for 2014 is Donna Tartt’s epic Novel, ‘The Goldfinch’. It is a novel that is epic in size (771 pages in the hardcover edition) and in content, traversing a huge scope of human emotions, desires and follies. The Goldfinch follows the story of the narrator, teenager Theodore Decker from the moment his mother dies in a bomb blast at a New York art museum. Theo survives the blast, walking out of the building with a ring given to him by a dying man, a priceless 17th century painting of a small goldfinch, and a sense of turbulence and catastrophe that never leaves him. 
This novel truly managed to transport me, keep me guessing, keep the (electronic) pages flying through my fingers and has been one of the best novels I have read in a long time.

The Goldfinch By Donna Tartt, Book Cover

The novel deals with big, complex themes; the blurred definition between good and bad, whether our personalities are inbuilt or nurtured by events and situations in our lives, whether if is possible or advisable to repress one's true personality, and the impact one action can have on the outcome of a whole life. It would be easy to get bogged down discussing these complex subjects, by Tartt avoids this almost altogether. The novel is quick, interesting, current and Theo's voice is incredibly authentic. Although Theo's life revolves around the painting of the Goldfinch, and spends his adult life as an antiques dealer, he is far from stuffy. He reels between nurturing and then rejecting various drug addictions, he spends his teenage years in a drunken, drugged haze in the sandy glitz of Las Vegas and he clashes with various shady gangster types. 

Tartt has a brilliant descriptive voice and as a reader you are taken from the bustle yet somehow homeliness of New York City, to the desolation and lawlessness of the outskirts of Las Vegas, to the inside of Theo's head with his spiraling emotions. The book is often funny, cutting edge and full of beautiful descriptions of life. 

"[He was] unlike the Hobie of my first visit, with his bedraggled aspect of an elegant but mistreated polar bear" (page 168 on the Kindle)

"Maybe this is one instance where you can't boil down to pure 'good' or pure 'bad' like you always want to do-? Like, your two different piles?..Maybe not quite so simple" (page 863)
Although it was an incredible novel, it was really really long. It didn’t at all feel like a tedious book when I was reading it and was easy to read quickly, especially as I was so engrossed in the story. I was however conscious of the fact I only had a week to read it in (I cheated- took me a week and a half). I felt a bit like this guy when I managed to finish it in under two weeks. 

If I didn't have another 48 books to read this year, I would right away re-read The Goldfinch. No-one should let the length of this book dissuade them from reading it. Reading this novel was also a good reminder to me not to shy away from any book because of its length.

As the title of the book suggests, the novel centres around a 17th century painting by Fabritius of a small, chained Goldfinch. I didn't look at the painting before I read the book and I am now very glad I didn’t. Donna Tartt describes the painting in a way that transcends what most of us will do; a quick glance at the painting on the internet before going back to Facebook. The cover of Tartt's book shows only a sliver of the painting, alluding to how the painting remains hidden, a secret constantly eating away at Theo. However, more practically the cover doesn't show the reader the painting before they have had the chance to view it through Theo's eyes first. 
If you would really still like to look at the image that so totally captures Theo, have a look at it here. You have been warned. 

Ultimately there will be many more in-depth, intellectual reviews of this book elsewhere online, describing it as Dickensian, arguing against describing at Dickensian (if anyone cares visit here and then here), or using pretentious sentences like "There is Holden Caulfield’s eye for the inauthentic, the perilous interactions with the adult world transpiring in a dreamscape New York — the specter of the dead" (yes it's a Catcher in the Rye reference). However this review is not one of those. In essence this was a great book, it was worth the read and is the sort of novel that you will be thinking about for weeks after. Read it. 



On my travels through twitter I found this beautiful review of The Goldfinch, written and illustrated by Kevin Thomas. He did my job in 8 pictures. Sigh. 


The Good Bits

The Secret History was Donna Tartt’s first novel and was one of a few books that I never fail to suggest to others. It was my favourite novel for many years. Tartt’s second novel ‘The Little Friend’ I didn’t enjoy anywhere near as much. So it is very good to have another novel by Tartt that compares to the brilliance of The Secret History.

This has been the first book this year that I didn’t think about how I was going to review it while reading it. Which is a testament to how engrossed I was in the book. But also makes it really hard at this stage to try and sound like I actually read the book when reviewing it. 

The Not So Good Bits 

The ending of the novel languished in several pages of contemplation upon the nature of good and bad deeds, which lead me to tune out right at the very end, only half concentrating on the ending. 

If you don't like reading about drug use, this is probably not the book for you. 


Four and a half out of five elegant polar bears

The Next Book 

'A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers' by Xiaolu Guo. A novel about a young Chinese Woman who moves to England to study English, and finds that studying love is just as tricky. (Gosh how corny does that summary sound). This is a suggestion from a friend and am really enjoying it.


  1. I like your review better then Kevin's, that is more a summary or a re-telling of the story in 9 pictures rather then a review.

    1. Thanks! Is quite a feat to get a 700+ page novel condensed into 9 pictures, let alone a long blog post!

  2. My favorite thing about this story was Theo's voice...the small examples of his observations that perfectly paint his worldview. I totally agree about the end - I was engrossed throughout the whole thing, but right at the end, it got a little too philosophical for me, and I found myself skimming. Still, what a wonderful creation by Donna Tartt. I will be reading her first novel soon! (Also, since we've been watching the Olympics and traveling around Russia with NBC, I've been practicing my accent - trying to capture the affable, charming Boris. My family says my accent is pretty good!)

    1. Thanks for your comment! Have you seen the Million's post (http://www.themillions.com/2014/02/how-to-tweet-like-boris-from-the-goldfinch.html) about how to tweet like Boris, it is brilliant! Both Theo and Boris are such indepth characters with brilliant voices. That's awesome to be in Russia for the Olympics! And The Secret History is an incredible book, can tend to be a bit overly philosophical at times too, but that is my only complaint about it :)

  3. You made me realise that I actually REALLY liked this book - but I must admit that I didn't like it quite as much as A Secret History (saying that, A Secret History may be my all time favourite book - I couldn't read a novel for like 4 months afterwards).

    I am VERY impressed that you finished this in a week and a half! I actually bought it on Kindle with no idea of the length, but with confidence in the author I didn't hesitate once. I started it in the middle of December, but I've since moved countries and uprooted my entire life, so hopefully I can be forgiven :).

    I must admit I peeked at the painting maybe 3/4 of the way through, and although I'm glad I waited that long, I am also glad that I had a rough image in my head so I could understand what the Author was saying.

    Another thing that you mentioned which I will only reiterate is the attention to detail - it really did make me feel totally sucked into the world, more so than pretty much any book I've read. I could imagine every little thing, even the smells and the emotions and the nostalgia - it was so intense in that regard.

    The ending did exactly the same thing for me too - I really tried to concentrate and re-read the philosophical bits because I knew that it, deep down, actually did wrap up the book, but yeah. Heavy going.

    I think I have way too much to say about this book - but I 100% agree with your review, and I guess you did the talking anyway!

    1. It is certainly one of those books that you are left thinking about for ages, and that you want to talk about for ages! I was the same after I read the secret history the first time! And yep, could have been a perfect book if the ending was a little better, even so its super close to perfect!
      thanks for your comment :)

  4. Finally got around to reading your review. I do think the ending was a bit long-winded. I hate the chock it down to that but I found myself saying "C'mon already" many times. Maybe I'm just another "millennial" wanting information too quickly or maybe I would've preferred one sweet and sour metaphor that I came to expect from Theo. Anyway you did a great job and now I'm off to explore your blog!

    1. Thanks for reading! I also was the same, feeling like I should enjoy a long ending and not be excited for it to finish (regardless of how much I loved the rest of the book!). Enjoy the rest of the blog, let me know if you have any suggestions for what I should read next! I will be putting up 2 more blog posts this week on 'Stories I only tell my friends' and 'Gone Girl' so keep an eye out for that!