February 14, 2016

Art, Life, and Love according to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch
By Donna Tartt
Published October 22, 2013
773 pages
Adult Fiction, Literary Fiction, Art

Theodore Decker's life was a mess, even before he stumbled museum, and subsequently, into a terrorist bombing with his mother.
As fulfillment of an old man's dying wish in the wreckage of the museum, Theo leaves with a priceless painting, but without his mother. 
From that day on, Theo's life is spent bouncing from place to place, and family to family. He starts at the house of a wealthy family friend in New York to the dusty streets of Las Vegas and the quiet isolation of Amsterdam. The only thing that stays with him is the painting from that cursed day in the museum.
One stolen painting in his childhood leads to a life on the edge, where there is a fine line between good and bad. Theo must decide if life, love, and art are valuable enough to keep fighting for.


I felt as if I was not grown up enough to read this book. I had many of the same gripes with The Goldfinch that I had with Donna Tartt's other novel, The Secret History. The book's style and tone were too much like classic books for me to reconcile the writing with the modern concepts. I also had trouble relating to the characters due to their improbable circumstances.

The characters all felt like they were decades older than they actually were. The main character was drinking, doing drugs, and cavorting with women at the ripe age of 12. When I was 12, I was still reading the Chronicles of Narnia and still believed that boys had cooties, so I find this completely unrealistic and unrelatable for me, and probably most of the other people who read this novel.

The circumstances that the characters were thrown into all seemed exaggerated and improbable. I understand that this is fiction and it does not all have to be real, but The Goldfinch was trying to fit too many coincidences into one novel.

The writing style was beautiful and reminiscent of classic authors's words, like Charles Dickens and such. The phrases and descriptive language used in the novel would not have been misplaced in a novel from the 1800's. To me, this is a double-edged sword. While the writing was absolutely stunning, it was often at odds with the context and the conflicts. This was also one of the problems that I found with Donna Tartt's other novel The Secret History. Most of the time, the writing came off more pretentious than stylistic. Honestly, the beautiful writing was not complimentary to the rather gruesome and modern conflicts of the story. 

There were a few aspects of the novel I did enjoy, including the references to art. Most people would probably assume by the cover and the synopsis that this is a book solely focused on art, but that is an incorrect assumption. The artwork and Theo's precious painting are like the landscape of the plot rather than the main focus. Regardless, I did love the art references that were periodically included in the story, since I do not see appreciation for art that often in YA and middle grade books. 

The themes of art, love, and life were thoroughly explored throughout the novel, and there were a few gems of quotes that I enjoyed. Theo's ideals changed so much over the course of the novel, and I enjoyed seeing his moral evolution (and devolution). There are certainly multiple morally gray areas that are explored in this novel and enhanced Theo's character and situations. 

Another disappointing factor in the story was the relationship within Theo's family. Complicated is not even enough to cover it, and this is where some of the unrealistic improbability comes in. Theo has some of the worst luck of any character that I have ever read about, and the amount of misfortune Theo experienced with his family made the novel a little bit less put together for me. These "incidents" and circumstances all seemed to be rather thrown together for the sake of upping the drama level instead of adding anything relevant to the story. 

The final nail in the coffin was the length and slow pace of The Goldfinch. Before you pick this book up, you should know that this is over 700 pages long. If you have the average reading speed of one page per minute, it was likely take you more than 12 hours to read this book. Personally, I do not think that this book is worth that much time. The writing was drawn-out and a great portion of it was not necessary. The Goldfinch could have been cut down to a mere 400 pages and it most likely would have been a better, more compact, and more memorable novel.


I would recommend The Goldfinch to anyone who enjoys somewhat pretentious adult literary fiction and who can stand to read pages of wordy descriptions and conversations. I would also recommend it to those who are looking for an adult version of The Series of Unfortunate Events or are interested in reading about art and the consequences of loving beautiful things. 

I would not recommend The Goldfinch for readers who do not like lengthy and slow books that never seem to get to the point quickly. Also, if you are new to adult literary fiction, I would not read this one until you have gotten used to the genre. 

Do you like adult literary fiction? Do you have any recommendations for me? Have you ever read a book that just had too many bad events at one time? Do you know of any YA books about art?

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