Shane's Reviews > The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
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This is a long book. Too long. Dickensian it is, and I wondered whether Donna Tartt was also being paid by the chapter like Dickens was, for it indeed took a chapter to describe something that may have been covered in a page, or in even a paragraph. In these attention-deficit times, that’s a bit of a stretch, literally. The fact that this book won the Pulitzer Prize only five years ago made me wonder whether the prize jury was signalling that it was time to return to the long sentence and the long novel.

The premise is great: a bomb explosion in a museum turns a child victim into an art thief. In the process we are treated to a glimpse into upper crust New York society, lower tier Las Vegas society, the art world with its customs, rituals and codes, and the criminal underworld that specializes in using stolen art for collateral on drug deals. We are also introduced to a plethora of mind numbing recreational drugs and their damaging effects.

Theo Decker, a 13-year old, sees his mother die when the museum explodes while he is visiting. In the ensuing melee, he dazedly grabs onto a priceless painting, The Goldfinch, whose creator also died in a fire in the 17th century. Theo hangs onto the painting as it’s the only memory he has of his mother’s last moments, and keeps it safe for several years, only to discover that it is priceless and on a list of paintings that were considered thefts from the museum at the time of the explosion. Theo is torn between the upper class but dysfunctional world of the Barbour family that temporarily houses him, and his alcoholic father who descends from Las Vegas to claim him. Life in Las Vegas is a very unhappy one for Theo who finds companionship with Boris, another abused but worldly teenager, who is no stranger to alcohol and drugs and even a bit of crime on the side. The amount of drugs and alcohol these two teenagers consume is enough to keep a whole village on a permanent high for years. At the heart of this indulgence is a desire to wipe out the emptiness in their loveless lives. Theo’s heart lies with Pippa, a girl who was also in the museum at the time of the blast, and whose uncle died in the blaze. Before breathing his last, the uncle gives Theo a ring as an introduction to his business partner, Hobie, who is to become Theo’s mentor and business partner over the years to follow. Hobie is the only father figure who represents masculine strength and integrity while Mr. Barbour and the boys’ fathers are all losers.

After a few wasted years in Las Vegas, Theo returns to New York to finish his education and join Hobie in the business of art restoration. His conditioning by Boris in the dark arts soon turns him into a seller of art fakes. One thing leads to another, and we wind up in Amsterdam where Theo and Boris end up fighting for their lives against a bunch of hoodlums. They are intent on restoring the Goldfinch to its original state in the museum and be absolved of the stain of art thieves.

What was disappointing was that for all the length of this book with such a few plot points and twists, even though some issues were resolved, we were left hanging on others. I never understood whether Theo’s unrequited love for Pippa was resolved, or whether he ever got married to the “other woman”, Kitsey, whom he was never in love with and who was cheating on him. And what of Boris? Or does Boris remain the Artful Dodger to Theo’s Oliver Twist? And are all these loose ends a foretelling (heavens forbid!) that another 850 page Goldfinch II is on the horizon? And what the heck was that last chapter about the merits of the Goldfinch painting all about—what a way to end?!

Even though the writing was fluid and the descriptions minute, this was a too long a book for the length of its story. It could have been halved and would have carried the same story with the same heft, and possibly more impact.




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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 30, 2019 – Shelved
April 30, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Linda (new)

Linda Hutsell-Manning Always so interesting reading your reviews, your take on a given book. I remember this book and it's accolades but hadn't read it. Now I don't need to. Your review says it all!


message 2: by Shane (last edited May 01, 2019 10:09AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Shane Linda wrote: "Always so interesting reading your reviews, your take on a given book. I remember this book and it's accolades but hadn't read it. Now I don't need to. Your review says it all!"

Donna Tartt is not going to like me for that!


Julie I don't know about that, Shane ... I would think she would have pretty thick skin, sending something like this into the world. One of the worst tomes I've waded through in a long time.


Shane Julie wrote: "I don't know about that, Shane ... I would think she would have pretty thick skin, sending something like this into the world. One of the worst tomes I've waded through in a long time."

I guess she wrote this doorstopper because she could. An indulgence afforded to the chosen few..


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