Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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Reading-wise, 2014 has started off on a strong note. I began my year by reading 2013’s best seller, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The goldfinch in the title refers to the famous painting by Carel Fabritius (yes…I had to look that up) featuring a goldfinch (what else?) tied to a perch with a tiny chain secured to its leg. The painting is sad but tragically beautiful, which is pretty much how I would sum up this book as well.

In the book, the main character, thirteen year-old Theo Decker is in a New York City art museum with his mother one morning when a bomb explodes. Knocked unconscious, when he wakes up he finds the gallery he had been standing in smoke-filled and in shambles. Trying to make sense of the situation, he crawls over to a man who is sprawled on the floor dying nearby. In his final moments, the man convinces Theo to take his ring (giving him instructions where to take it) as well as The Goldfinch with him when he leaves the museum. After the accident, Theo essentially becomes transfixed by the painting, valuing it even more than his own life, and spends years upon years completely devoted to keeping it safe. While the painting remains in good condition for many years, the same cannot be said of Theo’s life post-accident. In the years that follow, almost every adult he knows fails him in some way, so it is no wonder that after moving to Las Vegas to live with his estranged father (who basically just uses him for money) Theo turns to drugs and alcohol to cope.

I loved the beginning of the book when Theo is still in New York City, but once he moves to Las Vegas to live with his dad, everything starts to go downhill for me. That part of the book could have been substantially condensed and still gotten the point across; it seemed to drag on indefinitely. Toward the end of the book, I was getting fed up with Theo for continually mucking his life up and for his constant drug use, which I have an extremely hard time relating too. I just had to keep thinking in the back of my mind that there is a reason Theo turned out how he did, and you never really know how you will respond when faced with the sorts of things he went through as a child.  Ultimately, however, the ending of the book redeemed the entire story for me. I am a sucker for a good (not necessarily happy – but good) ending. So, although I didn’t necessarily enjoy the “cream filling” in this cookie sandwich, the opening and closing sections were wonderful in my opinion. Plus, even though I found it hard to relate to Theo, the book was really well written, if a bit lengthy.

I would definitely recommend this book to others; just know that you may find it difficult to slog through the middle, which is why it took me longer than usual to get through it. However, I do believe it was worth it in the end.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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