‘The Goldfinch’

Epic. From the first glimpse of The Goldfinch I could tell that the book would live up to the summation given to it by Alex O’Connell from The Times on the back cover. The book itself (or at least my copy) is plastered with very encouraging praise from many well-known authors and publications, including Stephen King, The Times and The Guardian, the back-cover displaying at least nine quotes declaring The Goldfinch ‘a triumph’.

Somewhat guiltily, I have to admit that I put off reading this book for fear of its size. The Goldfinch is almost 800 pages long, and as a reader who likes to carry her books with her wherever she goes, I was somewhat concerned I’d do myself serious bodily harm lugging this beast around with me.

A two week long holiday was the perfect opportunity to finally give The Goldfinch the attention it deserved. It took me seven days to read it. I would open it at an opportunity. When I was 300 pages away from the end, I stayed up until 1:30am reading, there was no way I could close the book without finishing it. The Goldfinch is one of those books that gets stuck in your mind. It was real and frantic, I began to dream about the story. Theo rising into my subconscious and polluting my dreams with an anxious haze. That being said, I feel like I would have really struggled to finish this book if I hadn’t taken it on holiday. It was beautifully written; don’t get me wrong, but there were periods where the story sort of meandered along with no real climax or tension to pull you through. There were points where I kept reading for Theo (and often Boris) these two boys were characterised so well that I felt very attached to them and their character progression, but often the plot behind their character was not as strong or persistent as I would have hoped.

The Goldfinch is set in motion by the death of Theo’s mother in a terrorist attack at the Modern Art Museum the pair are visiting. After the explosion Theo stumbles out of the museum, taking Carel Fabritius’ famous painting, the Goldfinch, with him in an attempt to save the painting for his mother, concussion and shock clouding his judgement. We know that Theo’s mother is dead, but the hours he spends alone in their apartment waiting for her return are anxiety-filled, you know she won’t walk through the door, but still there’s a feeling that things will change, that maybe for you the book will take a different path.

I felt as if The Goldfinch was a train following the tracks of its plot. There were moments where I could see something coming, I could guess the next path Theo’s life was about to take, and I would hope that it wouldn’t happen, hope that he could retain some form of normal life after everything started to fall apart, but my hopes were futile, Theo’s destiny was already in motion.

I found The Goldfinch to have an almost chaotic and frantic tone, even in its calmest moment. Theo’s life falls into this endless void of confusion and movement after the death of his mother, a state of mind that Tartt replicates with shocking realism throughout this mammoth novel.

Although I very much enjoyed the book, there were instances in which it seemed somewhat lacking. Hundreds of pages would go past without much mention of the Goldfinch and the risk Theo took every day in hiding it. Often things were overly-described and pages could be filled with intensive descriptions of the antique furniture Theo and Hobie, Theo’s guardian, worked on together, and at times I would find Theo retelling the back-stories of acquaintances, or re-remembering things that had already been addressed. However, I felt that in some way, this repetition of occasionally tedious description was a wonderfully real mirror of the human psyche. In a book so long that covered such a huge period of Theo’s life, it makes sense that he would forget things, or linger on the description of a seemingly mundane object. This technique, which could often seem like a stylistic flaw, made Theo become more real to me. He was not the perfect character built from the ground up by Tartt, he was a real person with interests and memories.

To me, The Goldfinch was well worth the read, although I definitely believe it’s the type of novel that requires full attention and a block of dedicated time in which to consume it, otherwise the subtleties of the story may be lost and the reader may find themselves struggling to follow the pace of the story.