I have a few friends that have started this book up, and some have reached a point where they wondered if they should keep going or not. I decided to create a little quiz to help them (and you!) decide whether or not you should pick up/continue reading The Goldfinch. Be warned, it’s almost as long-winded as the book itself! My excuse? I spent three whole months toiling away at this book. I had plenty of time to think!
Do you really, really appreciate art?
That Art History 101 class I took back in college did nothing to help me with the art and furniture savvy that continuously clogged up my brain. Mix that in with a heavy dose of upperclass snobbery and you get some pretty pretentious paragraphs. Sometimes pretentious doesn’t bother me, and if art and interior design are your thing then you’re in for a treat, but nonetheless it felt too heavy-handed at times.
Do you want your characters and morals black and white?
Although her characterization is over the top at times, these people really come to life. None of them are perfect, that’s for sure, which gives them that three dimensional depth. It reminds me of The Casual Vacancy in this regard. And the character that readers are likely to have the hardest time with is our main man.
Theo, Theo. I had a hard time connecting with him. In a way I almost had to learn to like him. His good friend Boris always refers to him as “Potter”. Yup, Harry Potter. Mainly because of the physical resemblance. In reality their backgrounds are pretty similar. Orphans, a tragic childhood and upbringing. But he is not like the hero of Hogwarts at all, unless we’re maybe talking about the moody Harry we witness in the middle of the series. Theo doesn’t make the right decisions; he doesn’t do the “right thing”. It just meant I had to up my sympathy. I had to remind myself of who he was, and what he’s been through. Seeing the book through that lens gives the reader a sense of compassion for our antihero.
That should also give you a sense of what the morals are like in this book. Although the line between right and wrong starts to fade and blur pretty early on, the excessive discussion of it comes right at the end: if bad results come from good actions, is the opposite also true? And is that okay? If you’re all for a case study and rhetorical analysis on all that, dive into these pages.
Do you proudly proclaim “I Without giving away too much, I’ll say that this book primarily takes place in Vegas and New York. Tartt’s way with words definitely helps the reader really “feel” what these cities are like. NYC, however, is more than just a setting. This city is one of the main characters in the novel, no lie. New York is a colorful, occasionally chaotic symphony come to life. There is just so much “New York” happening throughout the book that anyone who has fallen in love with the city will likely fall in love with this book. Vegas, on the other hand, is desolate and dirty; a daze of drugs, drifting from one day to the next with no purpose. This part of the novel dragged the most.
Do you prefer Russian Literature or fast paced Thrillers?
I’m no expert expert on the genre, but this felt like a modern day Russian novel. It had the heft and depth of Dostoevsky. The Goldfinch is giant in its scope of time, heavy in its treatment of characters and trials. It’s far-removed from the YA lit that has inundated bookstores. This isn’t a fast paced, sitting on the edge of your seat kind of story. The book floated on seemingly without much direction or purpose, although the path did become clearer as the pages progressed. If you crave action over character development, I don’t think you’ll stick with this long. Which brings me to my last question.
Do you care more about prose or plot?
Tartt can paint a word picture like it’s nobody’s business. The cities, the characters, the moments in time–all come to life. There’s no denying her talent. The plot, however…sometimes I could barely discern it. What is this about? Is this about a painting? Is this about growing up? Is this about right and wrong? Is it about love? In a way, all of the above, and it left the book feeling convoluted.
If it’s about the painting, the conflict really only starts to come up towards the very end of the book. I’m talking the last 150 pages or so. It felt strange that it all came to a head and found a resolve in such a relatively short span.
If it’s about growing up, Tartt shouldn’t have distracted us from that. Have you seen the movie Boyhood? The story wasn’t exactly mind-blowing, but I thought there was a lot of beauty in this coming-of-age tale. I think that was, at least in part, because the director didn’t try to clog it up with all this extra conflict; it was a boy just growing up. I liked it best when The Goldfinch focused on Theo learning, dealing, maturing. The most poignant moments are when Theo is struggling with his traumatizing past, and how it haunted his present (and potentially his future).
If it’s about right and wrong, don’t wait until the very end of the book to make some big exposition about it.
If it’s about love (of people or objects), don’t wait until the very end to really bring this into focus.
This question is where the book’s greatest strengths and weaknesses lie, and ultimately it’s likely the deciding factor in whether you will enjoy it or not.
3.5/5.0 — As much as I like her writing, this book was at least 200 pages too long and too directionless at times.
Up Next: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. That should make Val and Christina happy!