The Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

Paper Book, 2013





New York : Little, Brown and Company, c2013.


A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend's family and struggles to make sense of his new life. In the years that follow, he becomes entranced by one of the few things that reminds him of his mother; a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the art underworld.

Media reviews

Good things are worth waiting for. . . a tour de force that will be among the best books of 2013.
3 more
It’s my happy duty to tell you that in this case, all doubts and suspicions can be laid aside. “The Goldfinch” is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind. I read it with that mixture of
Show More
terror and excitement I feel watching a pitcher carry a no-hitter into the late innings. You keep waiting for the wheels to fall off, but in the case of “The Goldfinch,” they never do.
Show Less
Book review in English 2 out of 5
Book review in English 5 out of 5 stars

User reviews

LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
"--if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don't think, 'oh, I love this picture because it's universal.' 'I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.' That's not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It's a secret whisper
Show More
from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you."

And it's the same with books; the way one book will be read and thought good and worthy and cause thoughts like, 'I can see why this is a classic.' or 'I'm glad to have read it, even if I didn't enjoy the reading of it all that much.' And then you pick up another book and you lose chunks of time, dishes remain in the sink, unwashed, you'll count the hours until you can reasonably spend time with the book again. Donna Tartt's third novel was that kind of book for me.

This is the story of Theo Decker who, when the book opens, is a not particularly well-behaved thirteen year old who is on his way, with his mother, to a meeting with his school's headmaster, to discuss Theo's suspension. On the way, there is a sudden rainstorm, causing he and his mother to duck into the Met and then into a special exhibit to visit his mother's favorite painting, by Carel Fabritius, of a small pet bird.

Things happen. Theo's life changes drastically, over and over again. Tartt shows how precarious the life of a minor child is, no matter how secure their lives seem to be. In a moment, he's left adrift and at the mercy of distant relatives, the parents of friends and the kindness or indifference of strangers. Theo is thrown from one precarious refuge to another, often without a clear understanding of how long he'll be staying, always trying to stay out of the way. He's adrift and responsible for his own life in a way no teenager can manage.

I'm not the best judge of this book; I liked it far too much to be objective. I can say that it's meaty and complex and surprisingly fast-paced and that I enjoyed it enormously.
Show Less
LibraryThing member rosalita
Wow, what a sprawling, magnificent, compelling story Tartt tells in this book that is about so much more than the painting referred to in the title. It’s about art, beauty, fear, abandonment, carelessness, remorse, redemption, sorrow and joy. It’s about the value of friendship, the pain of
Show More
loss, the holes that life leaves in all of us and the ways we choose to fill them up.

Theo Decker is 13 years old when a tragedy leaves him without parents. He is taken in by the family of a school friend, and just when it seems his life has begun to stabilize he is uprooted and set on a path that leads him from New York City to Las Vegas to Amsterdam and back again. He bounces around between various sets of parents, surrogate and otherwise, some of whom are loving but all of whom seem incapable of giving him the sort of focused attention that could help anchor him in the world around him. Instead, he is forced to use an inanimate object — that painting pictured on the cover — to be his touchstone. Unsurprisingly, it isn’t enough to keep him safe in a world filled with so many easy ways to flirt with danger.

The story that Theo tells is long, involved, intricate, densely layered with events that seem loaded with meaning beyond what they or he can bear. The further into the story I ventured, the stronger was my feeling of constant low-level anxiety for what would become of Theo. It seemed impossible from the very beginning that he would live happily ever after — that anyone in his world would — and every page I turned ratcheted up the tension.

I didn’t always like Theo. Often I disapproved of the choices he made and the things he did, but that didn’t stop me from desperately wanting him to find the sanctuary that he seemed to spend his whole life looking for. I didn’t always like the people he surrounded himself with. Or perhaps more accurately, I didn’t always like the things he did with and to the people who surrounded him, and I didn’t always like how even the most sympathetic of them still failed utterly at providing a safe harbor for a lost soul. And yet I still hoped, right up until the end, that each of them would be redeemed, that everything would work out, that everyone would — finally! — do the right thing for themselves and for Theo.

The Goldfinch isn’t a perfect book. It’s long, almost unbearably long, made bearable for me only by the fact of its being an ebook and thus not an intimidating physical chunk to remind me of just how much story was left to tell. There are sections that go on and on and don’t seem to do much to advance either the plot or the characters’ development. There are a few too many supporting characters who are sketchily drawn and serve mainly as a placeholder for a group stereotype. But always, there was some redeeming action or insight waiting on the other side, rewarding me for pushing on.

I finished reading The Goldfinch yesterday, and even as I’ve moved on to my next book I find myself thinking about Theo at random times during the day, as if he were someone I know. I recall particular passages or scenes and think about how often Tartt chooses to work against the expected tropes. The chilly upper-class woman whose family takes young Theo in turns out to genuinely like him and treat him as part of the family even long after he’s grown up. None of the most important characters are purely saints or sinners; just as in real life people turn out to be more complicated than that. Just as this book is more complicated than a story about a painting.
Show Less
LibraryThing member cabegley
A question came up elsewhere on LT a few weeks ago: "do you read other reviews before writing your own?" And sometimes, I do. I don't think they really change what I'm going to say, but I'm curious--how does my experience compare to others'?

In the case of The Goldfinch, I saw what I had
Show More
suspected--people really, really like this book. And it makes me feel a bit bad to say, I didn't, so much. I wanted to. And it's well written. And I think it will stay with me for a long time--it's very memorable. So what I want to tell you is, I think it's probably a good book. And don't let my experience put you off. But I did not, and could not, like it.

Ahead, there be SPOILERS.

Theo Decker, our first-person protagonist, is a suspended 13-year-old private-school student, on his reluctant way to a school meeting with his mother to discuss his transgressions, when a sudden squall diverts mother and son into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Theo's mother introduces his to Fabritius's The Goldfinch, a small masterpiece. A terrorist bomb goes off shortly thereafter in the museum, killing Theo's mother and several others (including Welty, an elderly antiques dealer whose lovely young niece Theo was admiring shortly before the attack, and who flits in and out of Theo's life thereafter), and in the confusion, Theo leaves with a ring of Welty's and The Goldfinch, both pressed upon him by Welty himself in his last moments. The grief-stricken Theo (and here is where Tartt shines--Theo's grief is so real and immediate) bounces from the wealthy family of a friend of his to his wastrel, gambling father to the Dickensian Hobie (partner of the dead Welty), screwing his life up royally in myriad ways, and experiencing tragedy after bad luck after tragedy, and yet always ending up just this side of trouble. While he is rarely able to actually look at The Goldfinch (years go by where he is afraid to even go near it, for fear of attracting the attention of the authorities), its existence gives him comfort, this one thing of beauty in his screwed-up life.

It's a fascinating story, with great dilemmas and beautiful thoughts on the power of art, and what makes family, and how we deal with grief, and death, and life. And yet. Theo is such a passive protagonist. He doesn't do much. Things just happen to him. And near the end (I warned you there would be spoilers, and here they continue, and no, I'm not blanking them out because really this whole post is spoilers), when he finally decides to be active and actually do something, yet again someone swoops in and takes that decision out of his hands and miraculously, well, not fixes things, but eliminates the worst of the problems. Theo's Russian friend Boris (who is on the one hand my favorite character and on the other such a ridiculous caricature, who even after living in and out of the United States for many years has not grasped the use of articles) functions as a deus ex machina multiple times in the book, most explicitly in the section I'm talking about here, creating the problems and then solving them, while Theo just bumps along.

This book is baggy and unwieldy and haunting all at once. I'm sure it will stick with me, and maybe that makes it a better book for me than I think it was.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jnwelch
This one gets 5 stars, and maybe that's all you need to know. If you haven't read it, go read it. If you haven't read it, you may not want to read this, as some aspects of the story of course are revealed.

Donna Tartt has accomplished the rarity of a powerful page-turner that is written on an
Show More
enormous canvas, that asks, and to a larger than expected extent answers, big questions. It has readers all over the country aching to help the downtrodden main character Theo make better decisions, while they laugh helplessly at the antics of his one great friend, bad boy Boris.

It all revolves around the painting of The Goldfinch identified in the title. Reportedly the Frick Museum in New York is now attracting big crowds every day clamoring to see it. Although Tartt's story is made up, this beautiful painting by a contemporary of Vermeer, little known painter Carel Fabritius, is real. In the novel a bomb explosion in the museum changes high schooler Theo's life and, at the urging of a dying man, brings the painting, his mother's favorite, into his possession.

His beloved mother has died in the explosion, and his scoundrel father had previously disappeared, so only child Theo is on his own. Eventually he ends up with the wealthy Park Avenue family of his schoolmate Andy. The mother is chilly, but her charity toward Theo helps him make it through a difficult time, and she will re-enter his adult life. "Her voice, like Andy's, was hollow and infinitely far away; even when she was standing right next to you she sounded as if she were relaying transmissions from Alpha Centauri". As for his affect-less geek friend Andy, "Sometimes I wondered what it would take to break Andy out of his math-nerd turret: a tidal wave? Decepticon invasion? Godzilla tromping down Fifth Avenue? He was a planet without an atmosphere." Via a last request from the dying man in the museum, Theo comes to know antique furniture refurbisher Hobie, and Hobie's sweet ward Pippa, who is Theo's age and also a survivor of the museum explosion. Theo yearns for the relaxed, safe atmosphere provided by Hobie and his back of the store living quarters in the Village in Manhattan: "{S}ometimes I could lull myself back to sleep by thinking of his house, where without realizing it you slipped away sometimes into 1850, a world of ticking clocks and creaking floorboards, copper pots and baskets of turnips and onions in the kitchen, candle flames leaning all to the left in the draft of an opened door and tall parlor windows billowing and swagged like ball gowns, cool quiet rooms where old things slept."

Theo comes to live with Hobie, who is a disheveled and kind-hearted craftsman who brings some stability to Theo's life. Theo in turn begins to learn Hobie's trade. But then Theo's father reappears and takes him to live with his father's girlfriend in a sterile outpost of Las Vegas townhouses. There Theo meets Boris, a crooked Russian mining magnate's son with an idiosyncratic grasp of English. Like Theo, Boris has repeatedly been left to his own devices, but in Boris's short lifetime that has occurred all over the world, as he has traveled with his father. In Indonesia Boris briefly and happily converted to Islam, because the Muslims were so good to him. "{T}he mosque was brilliant. Falling down place - stars shining through at night - birds on the roof. An old Javanese man taught us the Koran. And they fed me too, and were kind, and made sure I was clean and had clean clothes. Sometimes I fell asleep on my prayer rug. And at salah, near dawn, when the birds woke up, always the sound of wings beating!" Boris has endless enthusiasm for life even as he routinely engages in self-destructive behavior. The two ingest astounding quantities of drugs while living their unsupervised lives. As they grow older, their paths will cross in unusual ways, their friendship always strong and shaping the events that follow. "{I}t occurred to me that despite his faults, which were numerous and spectacular, the reason I liked Boris and felt happy around him from almost the moment I'd met him was that he was never afraid. You didn't meet many people who moved freely through the world with such a vigorous contempt for it and at the same time such oddball and unthwartable faith in what, in childhood, he had liked to call, 'the Planet of Earth'".

The characters are all three-dimensional. Even Theo's father, one of the most reprehensible individuals ever to inhabit a book, has more than one side to him. Boris appreciates his kindness: "feeding me, talking with me, spending time, sheltering me in his roof, giving me the clothes off his back . . . you hated your father so much but in some ways he was a good man."

"I wouldn't say good."

"Well I would."

"well, you would be the only one. You would be wrong."

The painting eventually brings both Theo and Boris into danger, as they team up to retrieve it from international crooks. I'll leave it up to you to find out how that is resolved. All of this makes putting the book down nearly impossible. But at the same time Tartt manages to weave in bigger questions and issues, including about the experience of art. At one point Hobie says, "You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum gift shop sees something else entire, and that's not even to mention the people separated from us in time - four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we're gone - it'll never strike anyone the same way and the great majority of people it'll never strike in any deep way at all but - a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular. Yours, yours. I was painted for you.." And what does the beautiful Goldfinch itself have to tell us, a bird fettered by a chain but given eternal life in this painting? Tartt takes on the meaning of life (the answer is not "42", for you Douglas Adams fans), and God ("a long term pattern we can't decipher {like a} huge, slow-moving weather system rolling in on us from afar") and more. Theo experiences horrible loss, and makes headshaking mistakes, but continues on with the same unthwartable faith as Boris. “Sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illuminated in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.”

He longs for romance with Pippa, but are they too closely tied by the trauma they both have experienced? When he is in that home with Hobie, in those "cool quiet rooms where old things slept", he learns what is most important in his life. But he repeatedly risks losing that haven with his risky behavior and passion for the painting. For the reader who avidly rides through all this with Theo and Boris, there is an insatiable desire to guide each of them into safer harbors. They won't have it. It is a large, profound story, and you won't forget either of them, or the others that surround them.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Cariola
Readers have waited ten long years for two esteemed writers, Jhumpa Lahiri and Donna Tartt, to follow up their bestsellers with a new novel this year. While beautifully written, The Lowlands was somewhat of a disappointment, leaving many readers to wonder if Lahiri shouldn't stick to the genre of
Show More
short story. On the contrary, Tartt's The Goldfinch, a 700+ pager that takes the reader on a bleak but fascinating ride with 13-year old Theo Decker, was, overall, well worth the wait.

From the first page, Tartt sweeps us up in Theo's story. Like many kids his age, Theo, a promising student who lives in New York with his mother (his alcoholic would-be actor dad having simply disappeared one day), has fallen in with a troublemaking crowd. Theo knows that this day's outing to the art museum, to be followed by lunch, will not end in a pleasant mother-son conversation; but he has no idea that a disaster is about to occur that will change his life forever. As his mother pops into the gift shop and Theo follows a red-haired girl who has caught his eye, a massive explosion rips through the museum.

Tartt's description of the immediate aftermath is horrifying and heart-wrenching--but nevertheless necessary if we are to understand the emotional roller coaster ride that Theo embarks upon. When he regains consciousness, the only living person he sees--the elderly man who was with the red-haired girl--is clearly dying. It is he who encourages Theo to take "The Goldfinch," a small 17th-century masterpiece, and who gives him a token that will lead him, later, to the man who will give him a second chance at life.

I won't spoil the novel by giving away any further plot details. Suffice it to say that one thought that struck me is how desperate life can become for those who, like Theo, don't have caring families to rely upon. His one devoted friend, a Polish-Russian boy named Boris, comes from a family even more fractured than Theo's, and it's as easy to damn him as to praise him. Nevertheless, he's an unforgettable character.

The Goldfinch is not a flawless novel, by any means. For me, the long, drug-drenched sections got a bit tedious, and Tartt falls into the overtly philosophical towards the end with musings on life, death, love, art, and beauty. Still, there's no denying that she has spun quite a tale, created some unique characters and made us feel not just for but with them, and painted a seductively visual atmosphere with her detailed descriptions.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Chatterbox
I have friends who absolutely adore this book, including one who says it's the best book she's read in five years. I simply don't agree. And if you want to understand why, go back to Francine Prose's review in the New York Review of Books, where she contrasts young Theo Decker's bloodless
Show More
description of his drug habit with that of Patrick Melrose, a creation of Edward St. Aubyn: "Heroin landed purring at the base of his skull and wrapped itself darkly around his nervous system, like a black cat curling up on its favorite cushion. It was as soft and rich as the throat of a wood pigeon, or the splash of sealing wax onto a page, or a handful of gems slipping from palm to palm. The way other people felt about love, he felt about heroin, and he felt about love the way other people felt about heroin: that it was a dangerous and incomprehensible waste of time." Wow. Now, to be clear, that's St. Aubyn writing. Tartt's writing, in contrast, is almost banal. "pills were the key to being not only competent, but high-functioning."

The distinction doesn't lie in the complexity of the prose. Tartt, too, is in love with vivid and detailed descriptions. They just rarely rise to that level, where they are felt, viscerally, rather than simply appreciated. At least, in my case. Then, too, there are the cliches; the repetitiveness. A headache is "skull-cracking" or "tooth-cracking". Where is the kind of descriptive power of St. Aubyn, above? In a nearly 800 page tome, with lots of space devoted to description, there's room for it, but it never arrives. We're told a lot about how he hates crowds and reacts poorly to them, but Tartt never shows us.

The story was enticing and intriguing. Theo, aged 13, finds himself in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, taking refuge from a downpour as he and his mother are en route to his school to discuss his bad behavior and suspension. A terrorist sets off a bomb; his mother dies; an elderly man whom Theo had found intriguing even before the explosion, dies, but only after passing to Theo a signet ring and a stolen painting, along with an address. (Absolutely; echoes of Dickens all over the place here: the orphan who must battle the world and its authorities before finding his own way to peace and redemption...) When Theo eventually returns the ring, he opens the door to a new world: Hobie, his future mentor, a genius at restoring antique furniture, and young Pippa, who had been with her elderly uncle in the museum and whose dreams of a musical career now lie in ruins because of her injury. Pippa offers him a taste of her morphine lollipop, and so Theo's long, hallucinatory journey begins. Dragged off to Vegas by his ne'er do well father and the latter's girlfriend, he lapses into numbness, tormented by his mother's death and possession of the painting. More events propel him back to New York, painting in tow, where he tries to build a new life for himself, but his inability to be with Pippa, his drug habit, his grief and the painting's shadow all combine to make it difficult. And so on.

As I say, enticing. And I can see why many of those that love this novel are New Yorkers and (in one case) work in museums, because the best descriptions are reserved for the city and for the impact a work of art can have. But plot and intriguing characters of all stripes -- the classic Park Avenue dilettante family, the Barbours; the quasi-young Russian/Ukrainian mafioso, Boris; the upright Hobie and enchanting Pippa -- weren't enough to offset what wasn't there.

Had this not been greeted as a great literary work, I'd probably be less critical. It does reach the threshold of "thumping good read"; I wanted to find out what happened next, and the writing was as smooth as silk, if too often too bloodlessly generic for my taste. It felt like a decent popular writer had set out to tackle themes found in great literary works.

So, for me this was 4.2 stars. Engaging as a page-turner, and memorable. But the final chapter knocked it down from 4.4 or so -- it's nothing less than a preachy sermon on the importance of art, and felt to me like, "just in case you didn't get what I've been trying to tell you for 750 pages, here's what this all means", all wrapped up in the form of Theo trying to sort it out in his own mind. The problem? The closing sermon sounded to me like a trite self-help book, which meant that the novel ended on a note of weakness rather than strength.

This is an ambitious novel, and kudos to Tartt for managing and steering her way through such a complex plot and so many vivid characters. It's immensely readable, and memorable. But it's merely good, not great, in my view. It's not that it's too long, or that Theo isn't a likable character, or anything else that simple to point to. It's simply overwritten (in terms of the sometimes overblown phrases) and simultaneously underwritten (in that all those words don't create the same kind of vivid mental recognition that a brilliant author can create in a simple, well-written phrase.)

Go read Prose's review of the novel in the January 9 issue of NYRB; it captures most of the points I wanted to make. I think I enjoyed the book more than she did, because I wasn't stopping to note all the places where Tartt's turns of phrase annoyed me.
Show Less
LibraryThing member sturlington
Thirteen-year-old Theo survives a terrorist bombing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which kills his mother, and takes from the museum a priceless painting.

I generally like long books, but this one seemed very long. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and by three-quarters of the way through,
Show More
I was exhausted. Although I can’t point to anything specifically that is bloat, I couldn’t help but ask myself whether this book really needed to be this long, or if perhaps it was somewhat blown up by its self-importance.

All the things Donna Tartt does well (based on her very short body of work–three novels in total), she does well in The Goldfinch. She is terrific at conveying details that make people and places seem vivid and real. The scene where Theo leaves the suddenly transformed museum after the explosion was at the same time dreamlike and yet absolutely realistic, a breath-stopping piece of writing. Her knack for details bring her characters to life without making them mundane. And she has a peculiar gift for writing about that disconnected state of mind that occurs when you’re inebriated or high or traumatized. (I still recall a scene in her first novel, The Secret History, where the protagonist was so drunk, and his drunkenness described so precisely, that I felt drunk myself just from reading it.) In The Goldfinch, Theo relies on pills, moving through his own life in a detached, observant mode so that he’s like nothing but a head bobbing above everything he sees, and thus able to describe it all so precisely.

And yet. Perhaps it is the story itself that cannot support all of this rich detail. (Here is where I must descend into spoiler territory, so beware.)

Theo is haunted by the painting he has taken, The Goldfinch. He is terrified that he will be caught with it, that he will be imprisoned and fined and held up to censure for what he has done. For a boy, this is a reasonable fear, but I grew impatient with the adult Theo continuing to have it. Surely it might have occurred to him that the museum wanted the painting back no matter what, and that no one would consider a 13-year-old to be an opportunistic art thief. What annoyed me most about this is that Tartt gave herself a perfectly reasonable out. When Theo runs away from Las Vegas in the middle of the night, he thinks he is carrying the painting, but he never checks. Instead of being persecuted by his own fear, he might have discovered the painting was gone and become obsessed with what had happened to it instead. Who had it? Were they taking care of it? Would the painting persevere? That obsession would give him more than enough incentive as an adult to accompany his friend Boris in a risky chase after it, rather than be bullied into going. But as it stands, Theo’s fear and his motivations seem thin, and he never gets the chance to take action in his own life, to rescue himself. Instead, that rescue has to come from outside. It’s just not satisfying, especially after journeying thorough all those pages to get there.

And then there is the little detail of the terrorist bombing itself, which after it happens, is never mentioned again, not in the sense of an impactful, historic event. How had the museum changed afterward? Wouldn’t Theo wonder who had did it and why? Wouldn’t he encounter reminders, such as the inevitable annual memorial? Tartt provides all this detail, but can’t satisfy the reader on these points–that feels like a cheat.

There are so many things to like about this book, and so many reasons I wanted to love it. But I have to wonder if it asks too much of us readers, to give it so many hours of our precious reading time. In the end, when Tartt has quite a lot she wants to say about the importance of art and uses Theo to say it, I’m not there with her. I want to feel the same exhilaration I felt after reading The Secret History, but I just can’t.

Read due to buzz (2014).
Show Less
LibraryThing member lit_chick
"You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still … and that’s not even to mention the people separated from us by time – four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we’re gone … a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the
Show More
mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular. Yours, yours. I was painted for you.” (Ch 12)

A serendipitous visit to New York City’s Museum of Modern Art changes thirteen-year-old Theo Decker’s life. His mother, Audrey, is spellbound by a 1654 Dutch masterpiece, The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabritius. Theo, paying little attention to the art, is taken with Pippa, a young red haired girl who is in the museum with elderly uncle, Welty Blackwell. An explosion claims Audrey’s life, seriously injures Pippa, and fatally injures Welty. In the old man’s final moments, he instructs Theo to return the ring he is wearing to his parter, James Hobart (Hobie); and to take The Goldfinch. The day becomes the dividing mark for Theo’s life: Before and After.

Motherless, Theo is taken in first by wealthy family friends, the Barbours, and later by Hobie; until he joins his long absent father in Las Vegas. There he meets meet Boris, who becomes a lifelong acquaintance and criminal influence. The Goldfinch, still with Theo, becomes both his saving grace and his nemesis: “Taking it out, handling it, looking at it, was nothing to be done lightly. Even in the act of reaching for it there was sense of expansion, a waft, and a lifting ...” (Ch 6) But Theo has necessarily so long been disguised behind his theft that he has lost himself: “We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves." (Ch 7)

What I Liked/Didn’t: The Goldfinch has been referred to by some, namely Stephen King, as Tartt’s masterpiece, and, yes, I’m paraphrasing. And while I’ve not read any of her other work, I wholly agree that is a novel that is smart and rare and connects both heart and mind. The characters are extraordinary – not necessarily likeable, and I include Theo in that assessment, but certainly ones who will live on with me for ages. My criticism: Las Vegas. This portion of the novel went on (and on) for hundreds of pages, and, to my mind, did not add much at all to the novel’s worth, other than introducing Boris.

What I Absolutely Loved: Tartt’s meditations, and there were many, on the unsurpassed beauty and allure of great art, and on the gifts of great painters. I’ve opened and closed my review with two favourite quotes, and I loved this tidbit as well: “But the painting has also taught me that we can speak to each other across time." (Ch 12)

Recommended: Highly! Particularly those interested in art and great art heists; and smartly written, unusual literary works.

“His lines speak on their own. Sinewy wings; scratched pinfeather. The speed of his brush is visible, the sureness of his hand, paint dashed thick. And yet there are also half-transparent passages rendered so lovingly alongside the bold, pastose strokes that there’s tenderness in the contrast, and even humor; the underlayer of paint is visible beneath the hairs of his brush; he wants us to feel the downy breast-fluff, the softness and texture of it, the brittleness of the little claw curled about the brass perch.” (Ch 12)
Show Less
LibraryThing member Schatje
I finished this book with regret – regret that I had invested so much of my time reading this 771-page tome. It has received many rave reviews and was chosen as a Best Book of 2013 by the New York Times. Last week it was at the top of the best seller list in Maclean’s. I am obviously in the
Show More
minority, but I found it wordy and pretentious.

Thirteen-year-old Theo Decker survives a bombing at an art museum, but his mother is killed. He escapes without anyone noticing him and takes with him The Goldfinch, a painting by a 17th-century Dutch painter. He is provided a home by the family of a schoolmate before being taken to Las Vegas by his father, a man whose personality is dominated by the addiction gene. Later he moves in with Hobie, the business partner of a man who spoke his dying words to Theo after the museum explosion and who (Theo believes) told him to take the painting with him. As he drifts into adulthood, he keeps the painting despite experiencing tremendous guilt about having it in his possession. Eventually he is drawn into the criminal underworld which uses stolen masterpieces as currency.

I was expecting the novel to examine the power of art on our lives, and I was not disappointed in this regard. There are several discussions of the impact of art. Hobie tells Theo, “’And isn’t the whole point of things – beautiful things – that they connect you to some larger beauty’” (757)? Hobie insists that a painting can change “’the way you see, and think, and feel’” (758). For Theo, The Goldfinch is a thing of beauty but it also connects him to his mother who loved the painting. At one point, he says that “The painting had made me feel less mortal, less ordinary” (559). At the end, he summarizes that “Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of despair. But the painting has also taught me that we can speak to each other across time” (771).

Theo, the narrator, is not a likeable person. At the beginning one would have to be totally heartless not to sympathize with a child who loses a parent he desperately loves after having been abandoned by a selfish, unfaithful father. The Barbour family takes him in and provides him with a home, but it is a temporary arrangement and Mrs. Barbour is not the maternal type. When Theo’s father reappears, he proves to be anything but a model parent. It becomes difficult to sympathize however, as Theo continues to make one poor decision after another, well into adulthood. Even when provided with a stable home and support and affection, Theo comes across as an ingrate as he behaves in ways that put all that in jeopardy. One could make a plausible argument that Theo suffers from post-traumatic stress, but from the very beginning he wallows in self-pity and behaves in ways that are self-destructive and hurtful to others; for example, after his father left, Theo engaged in petty criminality even though the staff at his school was very supportive and even though he understood the consequences for him and the hurt his beloved mother would experience.

Then, in the end, he makes an appraisal of his role in preserving art; arguing that love follows art through time, he decides that he played a “bright, immutable part in that Immortality.” And he concludes with a lofty statement: “And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next” (771). His mother once said to him that “’anything we manage to save from history is a miracle’” (28) and he implies that he has helped perform a miracle?! Oh please!

As a teen in Las Vegas, Theo meets Boris who has a tremendous impact on Theo’s life. I found Boris unbelievable. He is fluent in multiple languages and reads Dostoevsky even though he is drunk or high most of the time? Hobie is another unbelievable character; in his case, he is just too good to be true. When Theo finally admits to Hobie of an illegal scheme that could have dire consequences for both him and Hobie, Hobie isn’t angry; instead, he blames himself: “’I’m as much to blame for this as you’” (497). When he later learns of Theo’s further criminality, he says, “’It does all swing around strangely sometimes, doesn’t it? . . . How funny time is. How many tricks and surprises’” (753).

The plotting is very slow and occasionally stretches credibility. The description of the explosion’s aftermath made me wonder if Theo would ever find his way out of the museum. And when he does, he manages to get out without anyone seeing him? The drinking and drug use sessions in Las Vegas go on and on. The descriptions of the effects of drugs become tedious in their repetitiveness. The extensive tangents are unnecessary; for example, if I were interested in furniture restoration, I’d consult non-fiction books written by an expert in the field. Horst, “a bad junkie” (572) goes on for pages about the technical skill of various artists. And the number of coincidences is problematic. Boris, for instance, makes an appearance just when he is expected to do so. There are so many coincidences that it seems the author feels she has to justify them: “’Who was it said that coincidence was just God’s way of remaining anonymous’” (758). Characters are always exchanging meaningful glances: “A glance was exchanged – the heft of which I recognized instantly” (531) and “They looked at each other and some unspoken something seemed to pass between them” (570). The scenes in Amsterdam, those outside Theo’s hotel room, are perfect for an action film but are not in the same genre as the rest of the novel.

Much has been made of the style of the book. There is no doubt that the author is intelligent and educated, but at times I sensed some pretension. The number of literary and artistic allusions is impressive. German, Russian, Polish, French and Dutch phrases are used. But is a sentence of over 200 words really necessary (715)?

There were several times when I considered abandoning the book; however, I kept hoping I would encounter something that would change my largely negative opinion and that somehow the book, unlike the tethered goldfinch in the painting, would be able to soar. It did not. At one point, Theo describes the finch in the painting as “fluttering briefly, forced always to land in the same hopeless place” (306). The book does the same.
Show Less
LibraryThing member imyril
It's fair to say this is a masterpiece - painstaking, detailed with love, agonized over, built up layer on layer, but the excruciating pace of this staggering tome nearly defeated me. I joked early that something only seemed to happen once every 100 pages; other than the burst of action in
Show More
Amsterdam, I may have exaggerated. Theo takes self-absorption and self-destruction to new depths; tragically flawed and very human, but not a companion I enjoyed spending so much time with, and while Boris is entertaining, his violent charms don't attract me either. The 1% are as unpleasant here as in The Secret History, over-privileged, untouchable (the Barbours - impeccably sketched, and unwilling to believe the awful truth about their peers), detached from reality in every sense. Coldly beautiful; devoid of hope or redemption; not a book to read if you're feeling down on humanity. Star rating reflects my abiding unwilling delight in Tartt's prose.
Show Less
LibraryThing member VioletBramble
I listened to the audiobook version of this 771 page chunkster. I usually don't like audiobooks but I thought this was probably my best chance of finishing the book before the movie is released in September. I ended up loving this audiobook. The reader, David Pittu, was excellent. The many
Show More
characters and their different accents were all easily distinguishable.
Thirteen year old Theo lives in NYC with his mother. His father has left them. Theo and his mother are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art when a terrorist bomb explodes. His mother is killed. Trapped in the museum after the bombing Theo speaks to a dying man, Welty. Welty tells him to hide the famous painting, The Goldfinch, which has fallen on the floor, in his backpack for safe keeping. Theo does. Theo eventually finds his way out of the museum. He never tells anyone that he has the painting.
As you can imagine a lot will happen to Theo in the 700+ pages after the bombing. Theo will deal with his trauma by abusing drugs and alcohol. He will spend years fearful that Interpol is watching him. The big take away of the book is that his mother was his anchor. Once he lost her he just drifted away. Even when he had good, caring, decent friends helping him out, he decides to take a darker path.
Ultimately this book left me feeling sad for almost every character.
Show Less
LibraryThing member RobertaLea
Ugh! just Ugh! And a long and horrible ugh as this large print version was 1200+ pages. I know this book has won many awards and has been on numerous bestseller lists... but I found it tedious and monotonous. I need my characters to be stronger and have some control over situations. I really don't
Show More
want to know characters who do stupid things while spazzed out on illegal and legal drugs. I don't want to know what they feel like or what they do or what they see while on a high... or low.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Alphawoman
Too long. Come on! It seemed like 50 pages of being sick in a hotel room at the end. Lost interest around page 600. Liked Boris much more than Theo. Could have edited out 300 pages.
LibraryThing member melissarochelle
Read from November 11 to December 09, 2013

I never thought, I'm going to abandon this book, but I certainly felt like skimming over a lot of it. I loved the beginning of this book. So much that I didn't want it to end. Then we went to Vegas and I started to grow a little tired of this book. Then we
Show More
were back in New York, all is well, but then we were in Europe.

The characters are interesting, the story is good, the writing is dense. Apparently it's Dickensian, but I've never read Charles Dickens (except for maybe The Christmas Carol), so perhaps that's why I'm not gushing over this book. There's no nostalgia for me...?

What I LOVED about this book was Tartt's descriptions of art and Theo's love of art. The art is why I finished this book. I kept waiting for more descriptions like in the beginning at the Northern European art exhibit.

And Boris...I've seen people say they're "Team Boris". I don't even understand that. You're "Team Steal from my friend and take him to Europe where he KILLS SOMEONE?" That's not friendship, folks. That's effed up. Boris is a very interesting character, but certainly not someone I'm going to rally support around. This isn't Team Jacob or Team Edward and definitely not Team Peeta or Team Gale. The teams in this book are more like Team Bad Choices and Team Even Worse Choices.

It's a good book, it is. But worth 800 pages of my time good? Maybe not. It took me a month to finish this book. This isn't heft like a Stephen King novel where you just can't stop. It isn't even like watching a really long series on Netflix where you just HAVE to watch the next episode instead of going to bed. This is more like a mini-series where you're kind of interested, but also not totally invested so you take really long breaks in between episodes.

11/11 marked as: currently-reading
11/11 page 25 3.0% "I want to go to to an exhibition of Northern European art. (And I wish books that described real paintings included pictures. I'm easily distracted by my desire to Google.)"
11/23 page 307 39.0% "Some books you have to read slowly so they last. I don't want it to end."
11/30 page 339 43.0% "Someone couldn't decide whether the dog was Popchik or Popchyk."
11/30 page 339 43.0% "Every time I update a status with this book, I read a couple more chapters and everything changes for Theo again."
12/04 page 505 65.0% "This kid just can't stay out of trouble..."
12/08 page 545 70.0% "oh boy...I'm pretty sure I haven't picked this up all week."
12/09 page 771 100.0% "It is finished. Finally."
Show Less
LibraryThing member kmmt48
This is a deeply engrossing novel about one character's very complex life. I thoroughly enjoyed every part of this novel. The main character, Theo, does not always make the best choices for his situation but the author allows us to feel his emotions with clarity and understand the choices he makes,
Show More
some good some bad. The reader does not have to agree with Theo but one does feel a strong empathy in each of his dilemmas and therefore the author presents the reader with a good deal of moral questioning that stays with one long after the book is finished. Yes, it was a very long novel and yes it could have been shortened but why?? Does one read to race to the end of a story or to be immersed in the expertise of the writer to tell a complex story? Some reviewers will not enjoy the story and will probably find it depressing or sad, but do we read only things that make us comfortable or to we sometimes want a book that tests our complacency in life?? I will be thinking about Theo and his friends for a long time - well done!!
Show Less
LibraryThing member SadieBabie
You only realise that you've read a lot of mediocre books when something like this one comes along. The Goldfinch is a masterpiece. I don't even know where to begin with how much I enjoyed this book. The plot, the characters, the humour, the heartbreak - nothing was weak about this. The genius way
Show More
the story was woven together blew me away. Even the most incidental seeming phrases or events all came to have a vital role to play. Nothing was unnecessary, everything was so neatly considered. This is one that's going to stay with me for a long time.
Show Less
LibraryThing member lansum
So many reviews here--not much to add, but I just wanted to thank David Pittu for a fabulous job of reading the unabridged version. His accents, timing and intonation made the characters very vivid, and the drawn-out parts of the book went more quickly. It reminded me of Life of Pi in that both of
Show More
the books are too long, but in both cases they will stay with me for a long time to come.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
There have been very few recent novels whose publication has been heralded with so much media attention. As surely everyone knows this is Donna Tartt's first novel in ten years and only her third in a span of twenty years. I remember similar press coverage when its predecessor, "The Little Friend"
Show More
was published ten years ago. I duly went out within days of the initial publication date and bought it in hardback, agog to read it, only to find myself awash with disappointment. After the mastery of her debut, "The Secret History", the second book struck me as simply dire, and I struggled even to finish it.

Still, I have never been very good at learning from past experience, and once again, within days (possibly even hours) of the publication date I had downloaded it on to my Kindle, and started fretting to finish the books I was already reading, eager to embark on whatever "The Goldfinch" had to offer.

And it has a lot to offer. It is a long book (Tartt doesn't seem to do short) but utterly engrossing. It is narrated by Theodore (Theo) Decker whom we first encounter in a state of feverish misery in a freezing hotel in Amsterdam over the Christmas period. It is clear that something pretty drastic has happened, though it will take a further seven hundred pages for us to understand what that might be. He starts going back over his life, starting at the age of thirteen and an outing he took with his mother from their New York apartment moving uptown to wander around a museum which includes Carel Fabritius's "The Goldfinch", a haunting painting, one of very few to survive the explosion of the Delft gunpowder magazine in October 1654, which killed the artist and destroyed most of his works. On that particular morning Decker accompanies his mother to the museum slightly reluctantly: he had been suspended from school on the previous day, and his mother's museum visit was primarily a means of passing some time before she went to a meeting with Theo's headteacher. However, while they are in the Museum, and while Theo is gazing at "The Goldfinch" a terrorist bomb explodes. Theo's mother is killed and, in the mayhem following the carnage, Theo makes a decision that will reverberate throughout the rest of his life.

Tartt treats us to insights into life among the wealthiest level of New York society, contrasting it sharply with life in the hinterland of Las Vegas where Theo's morally and socially inadequate father winds up. While there Theo meets Boris, a schoolmate whose father is a Russian oil engineer, flitting all over the globe and barely staying anywhere for more than a few months at a time. He and Theo become firm friends, finding mutual support against the vicissitudes of life in Las Vegas.

Later on, Theo comes back to New York where he lives and later works with Hobie, an expert furniture restorer but lamentable businessman. As he grows older Theo comes to take over the business side, turning things around though occasionally straying from a path of unassailable rectitude, and establishing the business on a very sound financial footing. But all this time he has a secret ...

Tartt maintains the tension and holds the reader's attention throughout. Theo isn't a particularly pleasant character but the reader stays with him right to the end. I'm not sure if this is quite up to the same standard as "The Secret History" but it comes very, very close.
Show Less
LibraryThing member fyrefly98
Summary: Thirteen-year-old Theo Dekker and his mother are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art when a bomb goes off, killing his mother (and almost everyone else) but sparing Theo. In his confusion, he winds up taking one of the small paintings from the exhibition and putting it in his bag. In the
Show More
days that follow, Theo is taken in by the wealthy socialite parents of one of his friends (Theo's own father abandoned him and his mother years before). As he is shuffled around - from the Upper West Side, to Las Vegas to live with his father, back to New York where he works as an antique furniture dealer - he clings to the painting, first as a reminder of his mother and then a guilty secret, the one thing that remains constant as his own life becomes more and more turbulent and he spins further and further out of control.

Review: I finished this book two weeks ago, and I still can't quite decide how I feel about it. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either. It definitely didn't annoy me as much as The Secret History, so that's something.

Objectively: it's too long. It is self-indulgently long. Probably two hundred pages could have been trimmed without losing much of the plot or the character development. Although, to be fair, I didn't ever notice it dragging; once I picked it up I could get into the world and keep reading with no problems. (Although, to be fair to my fairness, I did start skimming whenever Tartt would get into a swath of dense description with either no complete sentences or multiple paragraph-long run-ons.) I don't know that I was ever really compelled to pick it up again (although neither did I dread it), but once I was reading it was easy to stay involved.

Although her descriptions are occasionally self-indulgent, Tartt really does do an excellent job of creating her world, and getting her reader's not only into Theo's world, but also into his head. Similarly, her characters (not just Theo) are all multi-dimensional and complex, and feel like real people that you might actually meet. Again, objectively, Theo is not really a good person - none of the characters are, not entirely - and yet I didn't dislike him nearly as much as I did the characters from The Secret History, which I suspect has a lot to do with how much I liked (or at least didn't dislike) this book vs. that one. (Of course, this book is told by Theo, so he's of course going to put his own subjective spin on everything, and being in the mind of the junkie is very different from having to deal with the junkie. If Theo were someone I knew in person, I suspect I'd be annoyed with him inside of an hour.) But while I didn't dislike him, I didn't really sympathize with him much either - I mean, initially, with the loss of his mother, yes, but at some point, Theo's shitty life becomes largely of his own making, and he stops being a character I could root for.

I'm also unsure how I feel about the plot. The story kind of meanders, taking a sharp left turn into art heist/thriller about 100 pages from the end. Again, it didn't feel like dragging while I was reading it, but not a lot really happens other than Theo's downward spiral. Or, rather, a lot of stuff happens, but it's difficult if not impossible to pick out which of it is important stuff, and which is just stuff. And then the last few pages, feels like a lot of moralizing, and Theo drawing a lot of conclusions about his story that I didn't really think the story had earned. I mean, as much as I like the sentiment, I certainly didn't get "it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn't touch" from Theo's story until Theo told me that's what I should have gotten from his story. And there's the argument that all of that moralizing and summarizing and trying to make things grander and more meaningful than they are is in character with who Theo is by that point, but it still didn't sit quite right with me.

So, overall: I really don't know. For a book this thick that takes itself this seriously, I would have thought it would have made more of an impact on me. But it didn't - neither good nor bad - so I'm left wondering if I'm missing something that other people are getting from this book. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Tough one. I don't read enough contemporary fiction to make good comparisons, but if you do, or if you like Tartt's other books, or books about drug addiction and/or art history, there will probably be something here to interest you.
Show Less
LibraryThing member chrisblocker
If I were to write out the major plot points of The Goldfinch it may not seem as expansive a book as it is. Yet the journey feels huge—much larger than its 771 pages; yet, seemingly contradictory, the novel is a fast read. Every time the story shows signs of growing stagnant, it zooms off in
Show More
another direction. On many levels, this is an engaging read. Many will find it unputdownable.

Donna Tartt is an amazing writer (so why am I only now hearing of her?) She has a masterful grasp on her story and understands the language she employs. Even considering it takes her ten years to write each novel, there is an exceptionally high level of understanding of craft in these pages. Her characters are engaging if not always believable. Her language is interesting and intelligent. And the plot... it slows only long enough for the reader to catch their breath.

The bulk of the book is plot-driven, and this was the only factor that kept me from being fully engaged. For readers of plot-centric novels, I can almost guarantee a thoroughly enjoyable read. And though the novel is heavy in plot, The Goldfinch, I believe, successfully stimulates the majority of readers of fiction in a way only great books can.

The final chapter was absolutely beautiful—worth reading again. For me, those final twelve pages were magical—a brilliant example of the author's may talents. Some may find it a bunch of philosophical gobbledygook which evades answering their most pressing questions—sure, it is that, but that's not to say that it also isn't breathtaking. That, along with those first fifty or so pages, was for me the highlight of the novel.

The Goldfinch has been the hype this year, and this eventually will drag down the overall consensus of the quality of the novel. All the glowing reviews and friendly recommendations will increase sales, put The Goldfinch under the Christmas tree for many avid readers, and surely not live up to the hype for some. Let me be among the first to say that The Goldfinch was not the most amazing book I've read in years. It didn't keep me up all night long or make me salivate with desire. It was a good book, written exceptionally well, but for me it wasn't orgasmic; readers of intelligent, plot-driven fiction, however, may wish to bring a towel along just in case.
Show Less
LibraryThing member goldiebear
I was totally into this book until about 150 pages from the end and then I just didn't care anymore. I took forever to just get to the point. Some of it was just too long and drawn out -- she could have cut out about 250 pages of the book and I feel, it would have been much more powerful.
LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
I get why people loved this book. I get why people hated this book. I felt that the art storyline was really interesting and the rest was deeply pretentious and irritating. If I wanted to read about a despicable, bratty boy, I'd simply re-reread *The Catcher in the Rye.*
LibraryThing member maneekuhi
"Bleahh!" as Snoopy would say. In a nutshell, I thought the first third was excellent, the second third was very disappointing, and the last third was poor. Theo is in Amsterdam at the start of the book, 27 years old. He reflects back on events leading to his Mom's death when he was 13. At the art
Show More
museum in NYC, a terrorist bombing. Long, touching scenes as he regains consciousness, assists an old man as he lays dying, walks out into the chaos of first response and excited crowds. Then makes his way back to the apartment to wait for his Mom, who never comes. Alex hooks up with a classmate's family, incredibly interesting characters. Then, more than a year later Dad shows up with GF du jour to collect Theo. Off to Las Vegas where he meets Boris, and ramps up his alcohol and drug use (modern day Dickens? , I don't think so) Oh, and he has a very valuable painting that he took when leaving museum, the subject of the book's title. Along the way, people die, Theo does furniture restoral in lower Manhattan. He cheats in a rather disappointing way and is forever talking about making it up. He falls in love, but like two ships in the night....but there is hope, right? Needless to say, it's way too long. The ending is hugely disappointing and the last five minutes of philosophizing about protecting things seemed silly to me. Bleahh !
Show Less
LibraryThing member KimHooperWrites
I know there's been some controversy in the literary world about this book receiving the Pulitzer Prize. People say it didn't deserve it. I, for one, disagree. This book blew me away. The sheer scope of it is incredible. The fact that this story--with all its details--came from one person's mind is
Show More
amazing to me. I sound like a poster outside a carnival--"Incredible! Amazing!" Seriously though, Donna Tartt is a writer that other writers envy.

Some critics say that the story is absurd, with so many "that wouldn't really happen" moments, but this is fiction, people. There is plenty of real-life messiness to balance out the neatness of some of the story's convenient coincidences. I liked how it all unfolded.

A 5-star book for me is one that I can't wait to read every day, one that makes me stay up later than I should, one that makes me sneak out for a longer lunch break. This was one of those books. I was sad when it ended. Speaking of which, my only critique (and it's not even big enough for me to knock this down to a 4-star) is that the last 100 pages drag. The last 50 pages, especially, are very heavy-handed. I felt clobbered over the head with the deeper meanings of the story. But, like I said, this is still a 5-star book for me.
Show Less
LibraryThing member penguinasana
Maybe it was high expectations? The intrigue that came with such a strong beginning and interesting characters? Alas, the book devolved from there and felt incredibly long. The ending was basically a bunch of philosophical ramblings that sounded like an English major trying to wrap up a term paper.
Show More
Some interesting insights, but disconnected from the narrative. The author lost complete sight of the book's direction. And to think it started out so well.
Show Less


Page: 5.0714 seconds