Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Title: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Source: Kindle
This book would be rated: R, for pervasive language, violence, drug use

Theo Decker is thirteen when he survives a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which kills his mother and leaves him, essentially, alone in the world. But this isn't the kind of story where Theo is a poor, innocent orphan. Theo and his mom were only at the Met because they were killing time before heading over to the school from which he had been suspended (for stealing? smoking? he's been doing both). And on his way out of the museum, after seeing the man trapped in the rubble next to him die, Theo sticks one of the most famous and valuable paintings in the world into his shirt and runs out the door.

This is the first novel I've read by Donna Tartt (I think I had the wrong idea about her name and thought she wrote romances), but based on this huge, sprawling, thorny novel with an unreliable narrator and the last hundred pages that come right out of an (awesome) action movie, I hope to read more of her work. Yes, the book is profane, and violent, and Theo does some completely reprehensible things. There are times when I'm not sure I want to root for him. There are also some problems with anachronisms (the terrorist attack, for example, has to take place in the late 1990s or very early 2000s, yet everyone has an iPhone). But Tartt makes Theo incredibly vulnerable in the early chapters when he's living on Park Avenue with a school buddy and his family, and I have a hard time forgetting that Theo when the character gets older and starts drinking and drugging and stealing and worse. There were also points in the novel when I was deeply uncomfortable (basically whenever his Russian friend, Boris, entered the story), but I was glad I persevered, because the ending of the novel was one of those delightful surprises that doesn't come along very often for a reader. I expected that there would be a depressing ending or a non-ending (this is, after all, literary fiction) but Tartt gave this reader what she wanted. And the painting, there's always the power of the painting in Theo's life, and the power of the girl who inspired him to steal it in the first place. It's definitely worth a read for anyone who feels that they have the chops to go on a long, somewhat difficult journey with this character.

problems of timeline
uncomfortable but payoff is awesome
unreliable narrator


anna said...

Hm. I was on the fence about reading this. I read the NY Times book review - written by Stephen King! - and it was glowing. But then while I was waiting to get this from the library I read her book The Secret History. It started out great, really great. But then the end of the book was such a let down. And it took a lot of weird turns. So I wasn't very anxious to read something else by her. But now I kind of want to read this. Thanks for the review.

Cyndi Price said...

I secretly stalk your blog for my next good read. ;) I was excited to see that Donna Tartt has a relatively new novel out. Unlike the other commentor, I loved The Secret History, and have been wanting to read more of her books. This one is definitely going on my list!