Welcome to my post, today I’m sharing my spoiler-free thoughts on The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, an impactful 700+ page contemporary!
➸ 700-900 pages (depending on copy)
➸ published in 2013
➸ content warnings: drug use and addiction, alcoholism, death, grief, suicidal thoughts, violence
☆ atmosphere: 3
☆ writing style: 4
☆ pacing: 2
☆ characters: 3
☆ plot: 3
☆ enjoyability: 3
☆ insightfulness: 4
Reading The Goldfinch was a very interesting experience. Since it’s so long, I was reading the book for about a week and a half with no other books. This immersed me into the story and heightened the sense of thoughtfulness and despair that surrounds Theo Decker in The Goldfinch. This story is heavy and long, so it takes a lot of mental strength to get through! Although my rating is not particularly high, I am still glad that I read it. However, there were a few questionable things I wanted to point out, namely the use of the n-word for no reason, and racist jokes like Asians all looking the same. There are only one or two instances of this but I was quite shocked since it was published in 2013, and The Secret History from 1992, although white and elitist, wasn’t like that. Anyway, I just wanted to say that before the rest of the review.
The Goldfinch follows Theo Decker throughout his life after he survives a fateful accident at a museum that his mother does not. The goldfinch painting they were viewing follows Theo for the rest of his life as he navigates a new world without his mother. It is primarily a story of grief and loss, with a strong theme of the power of art. This book was heavily reflective and there are so many quotes that are both beautiful and haunting. Here is one example, where you can see how bleak the tone is:
They want it all as detailed as possible because even the tiniest things mean something. Whenever you see flies or insects in a still life – a wilted petal, a black spot on the apple – the painter is giving you a secret message. He’s telling you that living things don’t last – it’s all temporary. Death in life. That’s why they’re called natures mortes. Maybe you don’t see it at first with all the beauty and bloom, the little speck of rot.
The writing style is conversational yet poetic, and reflects Theo telling his life story (except he remembers every detail). However there are many long-winded passages on either mundane or obscure subjects, like restoring antiques and the conditions of paintings. While I liked these tangents in The Secret History with Greek philosophy and language, I wasn’t as interested in the academic subjects of The Goldfinch, which lowered my overall enjoyment of the book. There were parts of the book which dragged on with unnecessary details, and it reminded me of some dry classics at times. The writing style is far less pretentious than The Secret History though, which encourages the reader to form attachments with characters unlike Tartt’s other book. While we follow Theo’s life and his thoughts, the people he meets along the way are perhaps even more captivating. There are a whole host of likeable characters like Hobie, Pippa and Boris, and some less likeable characters like Kitsey and Theo’s dad, and the line between good and bad is often explored with these personalities.
Overall, I would say The Goldfinch is a demanding and somewhat rewarding read. 700+ pages is a big commitment and I would not recommend this to everyone, especially with the dark themes and long-winded passages, but I don’t regret reading it all the same.
Thanks for reading! Have you read The Goldfinch and if so, what did you think of it?
I enjoyed this book very much. You make an interesting point about long background passages that may test some readers’ patience. I think the author wrote those to lend insight to Theo’s priorities and thoughts. It added to the story’s authenticity for me. I appreciate your thoughtful review.