Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fiction Review: The Goldfinch

I was completely blown away by the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Despite that, when I heard that The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, I wasn’t interested in reading it. The plot description just didn’t sound intriguing to me. Fortunately, one of my book groups chose it for our September selection. I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on this extraordinary, compelling novel. So, I will describe the novel’s premise and plot, as I always do in a review, but you should read it anyway, even if it doesn’t interest you! This is one of those books that is far more than the sum of its parts.

Theo is only thirteen years old when his mother is killed in a horrific bombing that Theo himself miraculously survives. His father left them some time ago and there is no other family nearby, so Theo moves in with the wealthy family of his old school friend. They live in a big Park Avenue apartment, filled with expensive furnishings and surrounded by servants. In this foreign environment, Theo clings to his mother’s memory with the only thing he has to remember her by – a small painting called The Goldfinch that his mother loved.

One of the pleasures of this thick novel is its inherent suspense and many twists and turns, so I won’t say much more about what happens to Theo, except that the painting continues to play a prominent role in his life as he grows up. The novel follows Theo through adolescence to young adulthood and across multiple states and countries. He makes a friend, falls in love, finds a career, and through it all, holds onto some connections that occurred during and after the bombing, as that traumatic event and loss continue to affect every aspect of his life.

Theo is a likeable character who makes a lot of mistakes; you keep rooting for him and hoping he’ll get it right. He is surrounded by a full cast of memorable characters, including his immigrant friend, Boris (the unanimous favorite among my book group), his troubled father, the kind furniture restorer who becomes a friend, the family that took him in, and many others. The story woven around these characters is absolutely captivating, as we watch Theo grow up amid all kinds of challenges.

I mistakenly thought this was a novel about art…and it is, in part, with the painting at its center. However, it’s also a novel about love and loss, about regrets and mistakes, and about how a secret kept hidden can eat you alive. It has elements of romance, suspense, coming-of-age, art history, and is even part-thriller toward the end. In short, it is an epic tale of a young boy growing up and struggling to come to terms with the loss that defined his life. I dreaded starting this huge novel, but once I began reading, I hated to set it down and often read late into the night. The Goldfinch is a compelling, moving story that will stay with you long after you finish it.

771 pages, Little, Brown and Company

P.S. At our book discussion, 9 of the 10 people who'd read the complete book loved it; one said she hated it. So, you can't please everyone, but those are pretty good odds.

1 comment:

  1. I liked it a lot, but I thought the middle dragged with the drug incidents. I thought we didn't need a description of each incident. We kind of got the idea. I'm so shocked that everyone in your group liked Boris!!!! I did not like him. :) When he showed up again, I was not happy. I like how different people respond to literature.