I have to admit I haven’t previously heard of Donna Tartt until The Goldfinch. So when I saw ads all over tube stations and bookshops for this book, I just ignored it, thinking it’s the same hype being built up for when a Jodi Picoult or Nicholas Sparks book comes out — not my cup of tea, same formulaic plot, meh.
A year and half after its publication in 2013, I still kept seeing it around and reading about it. Consider me then properly interested (quite belatedly, hah), and any excuses of not reading the novel flew out the window when the ladies in the book club agreed to make it one of our spring month reads.
The Goldfinch is a first-person narrative saga about Theo Decker, starting from when he was thirteen years old and his life being turned upside down on a seemingly ordinary day when he visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother to see the Fabritius masterpiece The Goldfinch, which is his mother’s favourite painting. A terrorist attack: a bomb going off in the museum, killing art patrons milling about including his mother, sets him off on his journey, and we follow his struggles as he grows up and forges connections with different people — in Park Avenue, Las Vegas, back in New York and the art world, Amsterdam. All the while this painting accompanying him, this little Goldfinch which he took when he escaped from ground zero in a state of shock, which I reckon serves as a metaphor for his mother.
“Sometimes it’s about playing a poor hand well.”
– Donna Tartt (The Goldfinch)
I usually start reading a book club book quite late in the month so it can still be fresh in my mind when I go to the meetup. However, I somehow started this one early (must not have had other stuff to read then), and I remember being glad that I did — I’ve been reading and reading and reading, but the percentage read kept staying at less than 30 percent! I wasn’t entirely bored by it, but I thought I’ve read quite a lot, and the story appeared to me to be in its halfway point, but that percentage kept telling me I wasn’t. I have never seen a hard copy of the book prior to reading it (I couldn’t buy a lot of books then because of my living situation — not a lot of space for any more books, so I stuck to ebooks) so I never knew how long it was really.
And this book is long. There are times when Tartt just rambles on and on about something philosophical, the same way you get verbose and all over the place when you write on your journal, which is how this book is made to be presented; it is Theo’s memoir of sorts. But then I learned that even her inaugural book The Secret History (another one on the reading list as it is apparently much better) is just as wordy. One paragraph can run as long as two pages, which reminds me of the Portuguese writer Jose Saramago who apparently has long sentences that can last for pages.
Anyway. That was what was trying for me; the number of times I wish she’d just get to the point, the moments where I’d have a conversation in my head going “yes Theo, you pompous philosophical fool, I’m glad you’re suddenly realising these things, now get to the bloody point”…I started this book really quite loving it. Tartt is a masterful storyteller, in my opinion, and I thoroughly enjoyed most of the book. But towards the end, it felt like she was running out of steam but just kept on writing and writing and writing, and by the last word, I couldn’t remember what point she was making to try and round up the story. It was unfortunate for me, because I was reading this book quite enthusiastically, but it was a bit hard to remember that when I was so over it by the time I finished it.
One great thing reading this book led me to is rediscovering the Dutch and Flemish painters. I’ve always preferred those paintings and have always been drawn to them. After finishing this book, I was spurred to visit the National Gallery again and find the paintings that “called” to me. (Holla Vermeer, de Hooch, the Bruegel/Brueghel)
“—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.””
– Donna Tartt (The Goldfinch)
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Let’s have a chat!
Have you read The Goldfinch? What did you think of it? Have you read any other books by Donna Tartt?
What book have you read that has made you want to look up something that was mentioned in the story?