Book Review: The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

It feels like an absolute age since I’ve read a book that wasn’t for my course, but any free time I have had recently has been devoted to the absolute behemoth that is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

Image from Hachette Website

Tartt’s first novel The Secret History is always on everyone’s favourite books list, but I have to say that I started it and had to give up (although this was mid-third year so maybe I’ll give it another go when I have more time). Anyway, but I kept seeing everyone raving about The Goldfinch and I thought the main character (Theodore Decker) had a great name and then it was cheap on Amazon so I had to buy it. It’s taken me nearly three months but I have finally finished it!

Okay, so first off I was not joking when I said it’s a behemoth – I’m not sure how many pages exactly, but this is one LONG book, and it’s difficult to sum up. On a basic level, it follows the life of Theo Decker from young boy (I think he is 12 or so when the novel begins) to man of approximately middle age. However, there are 2 main subplots: on one level, the impact of his mother’s death (and his own narrow escape) in an apparent terrorist attack, and on another, how his inadvertent theft of a famous painting – The Goldfinch – haunts his life from thereon out.

In terms of subtler themes, I think the book has quite a lot of say about terrorist culture, “art terrorism” and the presence of art and history in general culture. The sheer length of it allows Tartt to delve in and out of an array of subplots, each with their own respective array of involved characters. Through Theo’s various travels, Tartt gives us a pretty expansive cross-section of modern American society, from the Gossip-Girl-esque Upper West Siders and antiques dealers of NYC to the fast-moving & drug fuelled world of Las Vegas gamers. This means there are a fair amount of characters to keep track of, but every one of them is deep and well drawn enough that it’s near impossible to get them mixed up. Boris in particular is one to look out for, and I have been inspired to name my future daughter Kitsey.

It’s difficult to really class The Goldfinch alongside anything else. I’ve seen it compared to Great Expectations and I suppose I kind of agree, although maybe only due to the length and the fact that one of our major characters is named Pippa – I think I’d be quicker to call Theo a sort of anti-Pip than anything else. Either way, it’s a fascinating look at America today and a really compelling read so if you haven’t already, I would highly recommend this and I am off to check out The Secret History once more!

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