The Goldfinch

Aug 17, 2014

The Goldfinch_Carel Fabritius_partialTheo’s life turns upside down on a morning visit to the Metropolitan Museum with his mother, setting into motion events that are both traumatic and transcendent.

Without giving away this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt, it’s impossible to say much more than this: a 400-year-old painting called The Goldfinch provides the anchor (in that it both grounds and sinks Theo) for the whole story. What the painting depicts (a beautiful bird tied down by the smallest and lightest of chains), captured for our perusal by a master painter, is also the central metaphor of the story. I’m just not sure that Tartt is a master writer, Pulitzer committee be damned.

This was an involving book that I could not wait to get back to—while I was reading it — but after I finished it, it felt rather hollow. Some wonderful characters and fine writing serve an extremely melodramatic plot. Much of the 700-plus page book is taken up with descriptions of drug and alcohol use, and fragments of sentences that are meant to be atmospheric, poetic, and descriptive but to me seem to be lazy writing, as if Tartt emptied her notebook onto the page when she needed to move forward with the book.

Theo’s voice, so warm and engaging in the beginning of the book when he is a young man, becomes burdened and burdensome; but other characters leap off the page and charm even when—especially when—they are most menacing. The highly contrasting settings and social strata are finely drawn, and in Theo, Tartt does achieve a Tolstoyan level of dread and menace, self-destruction and yearning, a true lost soul. I’m just not sure that I want to be lost with him.




Author Donna Tartt. Photo credit: BAS CZERWINSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Author Donna Tartt. Photo credit: BAS CZERWINSKI/AFP/Getty Images



Mel Malmberg is currently working on her first book of fiction; a novel about young Will Shakespeare.

Find Mel on Twitter at TheDailyBard@365shakespeare.

Mel Malmberg_2010

3 Responses for “The Goldfinch”

  1. Mel,
    I’ll say! The Goldfinch is disappointing. I expected more. Tartt has a poetic way with words, captures New York, describes her characters with Dickensian detail, draws word pictures of the rooms her characters inhabit, but ultimately, I didn’t care about any of them. And then there’s that ending?
    Thanks for your review.

  2. I totally agree. I dutifully read this book and started scanning towards the end. I didn’t find the characters or most of them redeemable. Such emptiness in their lives. Of course the writing is good, the intricacies of art well noted and appreciated, but for me, it was a continued dirge of the adventures of alcoholism, drugs, despair. Ugh.

  3. Colleen Dunn Bates says:

    Well said, Mel. I was totally on board with the first third/half, loved Theo’s character, and his mom and Hobie, as well as the Dickensian feel of the book. But I felt it got self-indulgent later, and, as you said, lazy.



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