Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I did it, you guys. I finally read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I've had it on my shelf for about a year now, and I even brought it with me to college, only to pack it up again in May, unopened. But now I have done it--I finished this 771-page beast.

And...I'm having several feelings, some of which are good and some of which are bad. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with a quick synopsis.

So Theo Decker is 13 years old, and he and his mom are in an art gallery when there's an explosion and his mom is killed. Theo survives. As he leaves the rubble of the gallery, he grabs and takes a painting of a goldfinch that his mom had mentioned loving. His dad had left his mom before the accident at the art gallery, so Theo's basically on his own...with a stolen painting.

Okay, after the jump, we're going to be in spoiler-y territory, so be warned.

The novel has the extremely cheery tone you'd expect from such a book--I'm kidding, it's super heavy and not just because it's almost 800 pages. But I really enjoyed the first part. Theo was an exceptionally-written character as a young teen. I felt for him as tragedy after tragedy occurred in his life. I laughed at a few of the witty things he said. I could not put the book down; I just wanted to make sure Theo would end up okay.

Then the book flashes forward several years, and Theo is a young adult working in an antique store. Annnnd... he did not end up okay. Well, fine, maybe he ostensibly ends up "okay"--he's financially stable(ish) and has a father figure that really cares about him. But I just hated this character as an adult. He sells fake antiques as if they were real (without consulting Hobie, the owner of the shop), among other things.

But the worst part, for me, was his treatment of Pippa, another kid who had been at the art gallery that day. She's his age, and they'd met a few times, and Theo lives with Pippa's uncle, and he thinks they're going to get together in the end. When she brings a boyfriend home, he gets super protective and creepy, even thinking to himself, "Could I write him a check to make him leave her alone?...There was simply no way in hell she could matter half as much to [him] as she did to me." And this is while "I was in fact sleeping with two different girls, neither of whom knew about the other." Excuse me?

My favorite character (once Theo turned out like this) was Boris, the kid Theo befriends when he has to move to live with his father after his mother's death. Boris has lived in Russia, Ukraine, Sweden, Poland, and a variety of other places. He's very matter-of-fact and hilarious. And Boris and Theo become close friends, so Boris got a lot of pages devoted to him.

Boris ends up pretty heavily entrenched in the black market of art, so I'm not entirely happy with him by the end of the novel either, but he is such a well-written character that I can forgive it. My problem with Theo's character was the complete 180 in personality--all of a sudden, he was a jerk. Boris, though I loved him, was kind of a little jerk-in-training from the beginning.

The writing was fabulous throughout, however. I read this book in less than 24 hours, which either speaks to Donna Tartt's talent or my lack of a social life. I prefer to think it's the former. I just could not put this book down.

Overall, I think I liked this book. I'd have liked a few more (or just better-fleshed-out) female characters--Pippa was a manic pixie dream girl and Kitsey is the best-friend's-little-sister-turned-ice-queen, one trope turned to another. But the story of Theo growing up and how the accident affected his life was really compelling, so I can let those thoughts just simmer in the back of my mind.

If you're in the mood for a long book following a boy as he grows up, including interesting characters and sadness about every hundred pages (and who isn't looking for that?), I'd recommend The Goldfinch. 

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