I 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 work. In 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.