Book Review: The Goldfinch

GoldfinchAuthor: Donna Tartt

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, October 2013

Awards: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2014)

Format: E-reader (Kindle) and Audiobook (Narrated by David Pittu)

I’ll tell you right off the bat, I had trouble reading this book. Nearly everyone I know (online and off) told me I should read this book. So, of course, I bought it. I started reading and then I let various things get in the way. From time to time I read a few pages and then I would quit.

A friend told me to just get past the first 70 pages and I’d be hooked. So I read on. I read about a hundred or so pages and stopped. Then another hundred pages and I got stuck again.

At about a third of the way through I decided it would probably be better in audiobook format. So, I started all over again. It was better. I devoted a lot of time to The Goldfinch and then, at what would be about 150 pages before the end, I decided to give it up. (For those of you who have read  the story, it was at the part of the story where Theo is grown up and living in New York City. It seems as if he is making one stupid decision after another. I guess I lost patience with him.)

Then someone told me they were looking forward to reading what I thought of the book. Uh, well, I thought, maybe I better finish it. And I did. In case you haven’t read The Goldfinch, let me summarize it for you:

Theo Decker is a thirteen-year-old boy living with his very sweet mother in New York City. His parents are divorced and he seldom sees or hears from his father. Theo is not a genius, but he’s smart and does well in school. He has a few friends, but is probably considered a geek.

He gets in trouble at school and is suspended for a day. He is to bring his mother in that day for a conference with the headmaster. They are early for the meeting so his mother insists they take a look at an exhibit in a nearby art museum.

Just as Theo’s mother moves away to go to another room in the museum, a powerful bomb explodes and devastates nearly everything in the building. In the aftermath, Theo cannot find his mother. It looks as if everyone is dead. An old man calls to Theo. The  old man is dying, but he asks Theo to take a ring to a friend. He also urges Theo to take a painting, The Goldfinch.

Theo manages to get out of the museum and back to his apartment. For days he doesn’t leave the apartment, waiting for his mother to come home. It’s a time of terror and grieve for him and then it’s confirmed that his mother has been killed. After quite a long time, Social Services steps in and attempts to find Theo’s father. In the meantime, Theo stays with the wealthy family of a school friend.

Theo is able to take the ring he received from the old man to the person the old man named. He makes a good connection with Hobie, the partner of the old man. Hobie is a highly skilled restorer of antique furniture. Theo is very impressed with Hobie and is allowed to visit and observe. He is eager to learn, but then Theo’s father enters the picture.

Theo’s father is the poster child for slime-ball fathers. He’s a con-man and a leech. He only comes back into Theo’s life for the insurance money. He moves Theo to an isolated suburb of Las Vegas and Theo goes for long periods of time without seeing his father.

Theo is left to raise himself. And then, he meets Boris, another teenage boy who’s father is absent most of the time. Left on their own, they do really stupid stuff: drink, do drugs, petty theft and eat horribly. This section of the book broke my heart. These boys needed good mothers or at least decent fathers.

The story switched back to New York and we see Theo grow up and go into business. In spite of all that happens, Theo never turns in the painting he took from the museum. He keeps it hidden. That’s as far as I’ll go with the story. I don’t want to spoil the ending. I’ll just say that there is, finally, a satisfactory conclusion, one I didn’t see coming.

Now that the book is behind me, I can honestly say that I both loved and hated it. The characters of Theo and Boris were two of the best fictional people I’ve met in a long time. The author really made me feel their loneliness, pain, stupidity and, yes, occasional joy. My major complaint is that it prattled on and on in various parts of the story. It definitely could have been shortened by a good 200 pages. Nearly 800 pages or 33 hours of listening was way too much for me.

I’m not sorry I read The Goldfinch. Excellent writing, plot and character development. I’ll suggest you read it too. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you that you may have to push yourself to get through it.

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8 Responses to Book Review: The Goldfinch

  1. Beth F says:

    The mixed reviews has kept me from reading it … I don’t know. Maybe I’ll kind of skim over a long, long weekend.

  2. diane says:

    I loved this one– for me it was not a struggle to get through at all.

  3. I’ve seen glowing reviews for The Goldfinch, but also quite a few mixed ones. That’s probably the reason I keep putting it off. I have the book on my kindle (it was a daily deal for $2.99 shortly after it was released), but have also heard that the audio version is well done. I’ll probably make it a read/listen combination when I do get to it… maybe that will help push me through. Thanks for your review, Margot.

  4. I’m sorry you didn’t love it, but I’ve heard lots of people say they had a hard time getting through it. I did love it and thought the scenery changes helped break things up a bit.

  5. This wasn’t a struggle for me but I can see how it could be for others. Parts of it were long and tedious. To be honest, a couple hundred pages could have been edited out.

  6. kelley says:

    I’ve seen mixed reviews on this one so I was waiting to see what you thought. I’ll add it to my list now. Thanks

  7. Sorry to hear you didn’t really love it. I put off reading it because it didn’t sound interesting to me, despite all its accolades, but then one of my book groups chose it, so I read it. I didn’t expect to like it, but the characters and story pulled me in right from the very start – I was totally hooked and could hardly set it down!

    Thanks for your thoughtful review – it’s always interesting to hear different points of view.


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  8. Ti says:

    I read it for bookclub and did not allow myself enough time so I was rushing through it and feeling like you. Sort of pushed and not that into it but the last few pages made it all worthwhile. She said in an interview that over 700 pages were cut from the book and that even those pages led up to the final pages of the book. It’s like she needed all of it to tell that last little bit. I ended up loving it but I did not expect to.

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