The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The GoldfinchI love ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt which is one of my all-time favourite books and also really enjoyed ‘The Little Friend’ so one of the books I had been looking forward to reading the most is her new novel ‘The Goldfinch’ which I recently received as a Christmas present.  Given that Tartt only publishes novels approximately once a decade, I expect nothing less than Great Things from her workIn other words, I can’t remember the last time I had such high expectations for a book.

‘The Goldfinch’ tells the story of Theo Decker, a thirteen year old boy who survives a terrorist attack in a New York art gallery which kills his mother.  On his escape from the ruined building, he takes a small, mysterious painting by Carel Fabritius called The Goldfinch which ultimately draws him into the murky criminal underworld on a journey through New York, Nevada, back to New York, and finally to Amsterdam.

‘The Goldfinch’ is a book which requires a significant investment of time and effort not just because of its enormous size (771 pages) but also because of the intensity of the prose. ‘The Goldfinch’ feels like a book which has been written very slowly and consequently, I found myself reading it very slowly in order to fully absorb the effort that must have gone into writing it even though I am normally a fast reader.  I was lucky I had the Christmas holiday to languish over it as it would probably have taken me weeks to finish it otherwise and even if I hadn’t known that Tartt has so far only published a novel once every ten years or so, the painstaking effort that has been made over every paragraph, every sentence, every word is still obvious.

Nevertheless, the quality of Tartt’s prose and plotting is impressively consistent which is no mean feat for a novel of its size. Based on the way she writes about her characters and their behaviour, Tartt is obviously a people-watcher and it is these detailed descriptions of both major and minor characters which makes the story so long. Boris in particular is a very engaging character and Tartt captures Theo’s vulnerability following his mother’s death very well.  I also enjoyed the scenes where Theo is taken in by James “Hobie” Hobart and learns about the antiques business.  While ‘The Goldfinch’ is a contemporary novel, I felt that these scenes played to Tartt’s Gothic strengths particularly well.

Would ‘The Goldfinch’ have been a better book if it had been a bit shorter? Possibly. I didn’t find the ending quite as engaging as the rest of the story although I am unsure if that was because Tartt had run out of steam writing it or because I had run out of steam reading it (more likely to be the latter).  Apart from that, I found the story and the characters completely captivating.  The prose is dense but Tartt doesn’t waste her words.

Reading ‘The Goldfinch’ was a knackering but immensely satisfying experience.  Don’t try and read it if you have a short attention span. Do read it if you want to get lost in a book which will linger in the mind for a long time afterwards.

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36 Comments

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36 responses to “The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

  1. So looking forward to reading this. Her novels are always worth the wait.

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  2. I agree that it was the book of 2013 …..and certainly the book stays with you for a long time after you have finished. To be honest I thought it could have been edited a little more……I also agrees the end was a bit of a disappointment . I found the Boris charac just a little too contrived but the themes of love and loss were delicately and hauntingly handled. Such a shame that we will have to wait ten years for her next one !

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  3. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I thought there were places that could have been shorter, but over all I was glad that I read it.

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  4. I have this on my list of chunksters to read this year, and your review makes me look forward to it. Thanks!

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  5. Interesting review, as I have heard other readers comment on the ending possibly being a problem – so it may be the book and not you! I probably will read this one day (I loved The Secret History, much less so The Little Friend) but only when I feel the time is right and I can spare a few weeks!

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  6. I’ve had my eye on this one for a while. Glad to read your review, so I can time my reading of it accordingly.

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  7. The Secret History is also one of my favourite books so I’m looking forward to reading this one. Although its one I’ll have to plan ahead for as, like you say, reading Tartt does require a serious investment of both time and effort. In an early review of this book Tartt apparently described her writing as akin to painting a mural with an eyelash. A very apt description! Thanks for the review.

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  8. It’s funny, i had problems getting into The Goldfinch and I didn’t like the end part, but between I couldn’t put it down. It was no The Secret History, but that would be hard to replicate. Each of Tartt’s books is terribly unique and I think that is hard to achieve as a writer.

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  9. I loved this review. I have no quarrel with any of it, I loved the book, I was totally absorbed in every page, the ending was a little lurid I felt but I let that slight niggle gosince I had enjoyed everything else so much. I now also have it UNABRIDGED in an audio version, so I can have it read to me while I knit for my new granddaughter. Such luxury.

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  10. I’ll get right on this. I love what you said about wanting to read the book slowly, savoring the care that went into writing it. It sounds lie a delicious treat.

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  11. Chris Sullivan

    This book appears to be dividing the book review blog writers. I have just read another blog I follow and they didn’t think like it. It is on my TBR. I believe this book will appear on the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist of 2014.

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    • Yes, it is definitely a book people are either going to love or hate although I hope that people don’t dislike it purely because it is so long. I would also be really surprised if ‘The Goldfinch’ doesn’t appear on this year’s Women’s Prize longlist – it should also be eligible for this year’s Booker Prize too so long as her publishers choose to submit it for entry.

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  12. After reading yr review I’m a little daunted; at the moment I’m finding very long books difficult to read. The audio version might be a better idea for me. Thanks for the review.

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  13. A Fresh Tomorrow

    Great review. I, too, felt this was completely satisfying even with the time it took to finish. I hated Boris, but couldn’t get him out of my head — what a character.

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  14. Great write up! I am currently reading this and I am totally in love with the way it has been written, so beautiful!

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  15. I feel much the same as you about Tartt. I got this book for Christmas and I’m looking forward to reading it. Soon, I hope!

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  16. It is quite a long book! 15% to go according to my Kindle then I’ll be posting my review! Thanks for yours and your blog – new follower here!

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  17. Enticing review! “The Little Friend” also had an ending that felt abrupt and incomplete — as if the reader was mindlessly rushed along to the edge of a cliff –perhaps Tartt is attempting to establish a signature style with her endings.

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  23. Have just finished The Goldfinch and agree with everything you say. The writing was spectacular, I thought.

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  24. It is a great book indeed and I can’t wait to read more books by Donna Tartt.

    Here’s my summary/ Review of the book: http://accordingtohind.com/sunday-book-goldfinch-donna-tartt/

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  29. I’m late to the party but I just finished this book. I see from goodreads that it is definitely a love/hate relationship. People either loved it or they hated it. I personally gave it a 4/5 stars. It kept me reading. The end-eh-it did no satisfy me perse but I didn’t have expectations either. I liked Theo’s character over Boris. I thought Boris was shady and was worried for Theo while they were in Europe. I think Boris had different things in mind but backed out (as in take Theo for his money). Overall, like you-I liked it. Thanks for sharing your review.

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  30. Once Upon a Book

    I’ve had this book sitting on my bookcase for nearly a year but the size has been putting me off starting it. I loved the Secret History and after reading your review I think I may have the courage to actually pick it up!

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