Book Review: the Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I was reluctant to read this book for a long time. Friends read it. Strangers read it. People added it to best sellers lists and it came up on Amazon as a ‘thing i should read’ a lot. And I had it, neatly downloaded onto the tablet. But I kept pushing it further down the list because I hated the cover. It looked pouncy. And drama-ish. I like some ‘drama’ books (modern fiction? I don’t know. I subcategorise my books according to movie genre. I thought this would be like Hateship Loveship which looks kinda like a romantic comedy and ends up being an hour or two of you waiting for someone, ANYONE to do something that allows this poor woman to smile. That genre that’s supposed to be a dramatic realisation of a current, possible scenario with only a little accident humour involved? what genre is that??) – I LOVED boy snow bird. It was fucking weird and I loved it. I loved the Mirk and Midnight Hour (although I’m not sure why, because it wasn’t very well written). Anyway, I didn’t want to read this.

And then I read it and couldn’t put it down and when I finally gave in to sleep at like 3am I had weird dreams and couldn’t wait to pick it up again. I haven’t been so completely absorbed in a book for quite a while – I think I actually lost myself in the main character and started hankering for neat vodka and oxy.

It’s the story of Theo, who loses his mother and gains a priceless painting. The story follows him as he lands at the home of a rich friend, then in the Nevada desert with his gambling, addicted father, then back in New York at the home of Hobie, an antiques restorer who also lost someone in the explosion that killed Theo’s mother. Theo is one of those characters who means well, but is a teeny bit self indulgent and never gets anything quite right. His best friend Boris, his fiancee Kitsey, the love of his life Pippa are all characters who Theo is not good for and they are not good for him in return. this is what thrilled me about this book – the fact that we all have these imperfect relationships that we cling to even as they drag us down. Theo’s descent into depression and addiction is well documented (I love that Tartt didn’t have him as a addict-in-the-gutter, that trope has been overdone and I’m so glad to see characters that function (albeit unsteadily) despite their addictions). The last quarter of this blissfully long book is a little bit garbled as Theo loses it. A life of stresses and anxiety about bad decision with no choices in sight leave Theo unstable and suicidal. I love that Tartt pulls him out of Amsterdam in a basic fashion. There is no heroic gesture, no fanfare, no grand realisation – he just stops trying to kill himself and goes home. And I think that is how it happens sometime – there’s not always a ‘my life flashed before my eyes and I realised all I have to live for’ moment, I think some people are just too tired to even kill themselves and eventually that urge passes.

The writing in this book is beautiful. Sometimes the analepses is a little jumbled and confusing, especially when the chracters are high, and there are a few things you have to re-read in order to make sure it’s saying what you think it’s saying, but that subtlety was kind to me. I just love that this is a hefty book – I didn’t want it to end (although of course I was desperate to see if he ended up with Pippa or not). it’s not something you’ll get through in a night even if you stay up until 3am, but if you like modern day stories that drag you in and under completely, this is definitely worth a read.

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