The Goldfinch isn’t just a story; it’s an experience.
As I was reading through The Goldfinch I struggled with how I’m going to write this review. At first, the book took off to a very quick start and the opening scenes are enough reason to read The Goldfinch. Then for a while it was slow (at least I thought so) and I didn’t find much merit in the book to talk about (beyond that opening part I mentioned). But after that I realized the problem was how I was approaching the story. Because of the fast pace with which the story kicked off, I was misled to thinking this was what the book was about; a fast-paced, keeps-you-turning-the-page thriller. Although it wasn’t fast-paced, it kept me coming back to it whenever I had free time, and it definitely kept me turning the pages. And then, about half way through (which wasn’t much because most of the good stuff was still to come), it hit me what this book was really about. It’s about life. And you don’t rush life, you live it. You experience it.
Let me break it down for you first. The Goldfinch is the latest novel by American author Donna Tartt published in 2013. Her last novel before that was published in 2002 and she only wrote three novels in her whole career! But after reading The Goldfinch, I appreciate that she took her time.
The Goldfinch has been described as “a modern day epic”. I must admit I haven’t read many books that have been described as such but now that I’ve finished the book, I’d say that that description is quite true. The way I’d put it is this: The Goldfinch is the life story of Theo Decker, but we will each see resonances of our own lives in it.
The story begins with a tragic incident that happens to Theo when he is only thirteen years old. From there on his life becomes linked to this rare painting called The Goldfinch, and it’s up to us, the readers, to follow his story, enjoy it, and reflect on our own lives as we go on.
I don’t want to get into too many details about the plot so as not to spoil it for you, but I can tell you this much: the story may seem slow (it’s about life, not car chases) but when you let your guard down and think nothing new is going to happen, something does happen and you keep turning the pages. The other thing I’d like to tell you is that the last two hundred pages are worth the time and money you will invest in this book.
Donna Tartt does two great things in The Goldfinch: (1) her characters are some of the most vivid and loveable characters I’ve read. (2) She breaks down the book into parts that can be separate short stories on their own, each with a different setting and mood. When immersed in the story you might not notice it, but every once in a while, if you step back and look at the whole picture, you will realize how different the writing is from one part to another; very different that it sets a different mood, yet consistent enough to maintain the voice of each character despite the passing of years and the characters growing up.
As far as characters are concerned, there are four main ones in The Goldfinch; Theo Decker, the protagonist, Boris, his friend, Pippa who, for lack of a better description, I’d call the love interest and last but not least, James Hobart, also known as Hobie. These may be the four main characters, but the cast of The Goldfinch is more than just four, and they are all as important and as well-written as the ones I mentioned. It’s probably worth noting that even Theo’s dog has a personality that comes across clearly and that the author manages to keep consistent throughout the whole book. Another fascinating aspect is that another character, Welty Blackwell, despite having only a short dialogue in the whole book, is still an imposing presence in the story and is someone I know I will remember long after the story ended.
The Goldfinch may suffer from some slow parts when the author gets too hooked up on details specially when it comes to art and antique furniture (which are a big part of this book), but that same attention to detail injects most of her scenes with a liveliness that I came to appreciate. I felt gloomy when it was cloudy in New York City (where Theo lives), I could hear his wet footsteps on the carpet after walking in from heavy rain, I could feel the same warmth he felt when he was in the antique shop surrounded by old furniture and by the warmth and love of the people who loved him the most. Some of the best parts of this book were the scenes with Theo and Pippa together. The description of the settings, the mood Theo was describing, and the words they exchanged; everything was so real! (One of those best scenes is in the last two hundred pages I told you about)
So, the verdict: The Goldfinch is a big book, a heavy book; it’s a book you savour and read slowly with a cup of coffee in a comfortable chair, not a book to rush while sitting in a metal chair in the airport waiting for the last call for your flight.