As ever (I don’t know what is wrong with me but lately I’m more and more speechless over particularly brilliant novels) I am astounded as to how I can possibly write a review that truly honours Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Yes, it won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize. It’s very highly acclaimed by many critics and readers. However, its had a fair share of people saying that it’s overrated and not worth reading (from what I’ve read on Goodreads and in published articles). To start, The Goldfinch definitely deserved the top prize as book of the year, in my opinion. But also, I can see why some people might not like it. I loved it, but it is by no means a perfect novel (even if my first impulse was to give it 5 stars) and there were times I got a tad pesky and kind of wanted the novel to just be a little bit shorter…but well, I enjoyed pretty much every moment reading this.
If you don’t know, The Goldfinch is a bildungsroman and basically a modern Dickens novel (or so I’ve heard as I’ve only read a third of Great Expectations myself). It covers several years of Theodore Decker’s life, from the day a catastrophe that killed his mother and ripped his world apart at the age of the thirteen and into adulthood. He becomes attached to a painting by Fabritius called The Goldfinch, which he sort-of-accidentally procures and which reminds him of his mother. Ultimately, his life is a meandering tale of pain, longing, heartache, crime, drugs – all lead on by his mother’s death, the painting and the greediness of others. I’m not so good at summarising novels, especially with a novel like this, where so much happens and the events are so complex and connected. That’s kind of just giving you a general idea without giving too much away.
There are a few things that make this novel so strong. Disregarding the plot as I won’t even try to comment on that without fear of spoiling. They are Tartt’s writing style, the characters and the overall message/moral. Tartt writes beautifully. Sometimes I had to stop and re-read passages over again to re-experience the feeling of reading such words. Yes, okay, Tartt sometimes verges on some cliches in her writing, but I think that’s completely on purpose. I think there just might be a purpose to it. In many ways, The Goldfinch is a novel that is critiquing art. It focuses on paintings, but I think Tarrt is trying to say something about all creativity. I haven’t quite grasped what exactly it is, but I think it might be something about the longevity of art, what art means, what it can tell us about ourselves, how art is never completely original. Cliches are cliches because they’re used too much, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important or have some meaning. There’s just so much in this novel about life and death and the meaning of everything. Through Theo, Tartt brings a fascinating portrayal and analysis of the world, both the real and the literary. There are so many great pop culture references, including Fullmetal Alchemist, the Misfits and Harry Potter. I especially liked the Harry Potter references.
But, moving on. I want to talk a bit about the characters because I thought they were incredible. No perfect, of course, but throughout the novel I definitely grew to like them a lot. Of course, I liked Theo immediately. Everything he feels, everything he does, everything that happens to him… all of it is so heartbreaking you cannot help but feel sympathetic and empathetic and to want to be on his side (even if you do wish he wasn’t throwing his life away so frequently). Sure, sometimes I found Theo a bit bleak, cynical, passive, withdrawn, but I could understand why he was that way and I liked him all the more for it. You know, he’s a complicated character and it was fascinating to be in his mind for the duration of the novel. (Fun fact: Theo is given the nickname Potter by a certain friend because he wears round glasses and has messy hair.)
The other characters I particularly liked are Boris (who is probably my favourite character of the lot), Hobie and Pippa. Pretty obvious choices for my favourite characters, but still. I also came to like Mrs Barbour and of course, I liked her son Andy, Theo’s childhood friend. I can’t go into a big discussion about the characters, because SPOILER ALERT, but I’m just telling you that if you do ever read this novel, the characters don’t disappoint. Boris, particularly, will keep you extremely entertained.
Like I said, I loved this novel. I thought it was a fascinating portrayal of…well, a whole heap of things, really, but of course, like all art, it focuses on life and death. You know, the big stuff. Fascinating. I found it riveting to read and I must say, the resolutions Theo comes to in the end almost had me bawling. And it’s also yet another novel that uses the word ‘jasmine’ in it. I always like finding my name in my favourite books, and let me tell you, it seems to crop up in many of them. But, don’t worry. I’m not being bias. I really did love this book and I hope you will, too.