The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to like the Goldfinch. Yes, I used to love bildungsromans (coming of age stories) when I was younger, but now that I am well into adulthood, I was not convinced that a bildungsroman about a male would be relatable to me. Also, the book is about 800 pages long, so it would really need to draw me in if I were to finish it. I only have so much time to read, and so many books on my to do list!
The tens of thousands of positive reviews of this book on Amazon were great testimonials for the quality of the writing, so I went ahead and sprung for it. Lucky I did! This tome can join the ranks of favorite contemporary literature on the top shelf of my bookshelf.
The Goldfinch effectively captures the post-911 zeitgeist of the first part of the twenty-first century. The story begins near the end, in Amsterdam following some mysterious circumstances. It then falls back in time to recount a bomb that goes off in a New York museum, the kind of decentralized terrorism that has taken the place of sovereign-managed wars. A boy comes into possession of a luminous painting of a Goldfinch as he makes his way out of the museum, unlike his mother. The narrative then follows the events that unfold in his life as he moves between foster homes and his delinquent father, from the high society auction houses to the underground and derelict, from the East Coast to the West Coast to Europe. All the while he carries this curious painting of a Goldfinch with a tiny chain shackled to its ankle. Along the way, he finds friends, love, and people who mirror him in surprising ways.
Why did I love this book? I can’t spoil the ending, but the writing masterfully folds events and characters in on themselves to weave the narrative arc in a tidy chain. It’s very satisfying.
One of my favorite things is the way Donna Tartt describes the painting. I can tell that she actually did her research well to describe how the brushstrokes on the bird are placed in representational realism and expressive application to masterfully give the bird its sense of personality and emotion. This kind of writing is very difficult. I felt like I could see the painting through her writing. Admittedly, there is a painting of a Goldfinch on the cover, so maybe there is another way I could have seen the painting.
Also, there’s a good balance of storytelling and philosophy. I like to read novels for a strong narrative. If I want to read a philosophy book, I’ll read a philosophy book. As I neared the final pages and the narrative winded down, I did have trouble making it through the last words, which were heavily philosophical about art and life. I would rather have these points be made through the storytelling. However, I blew through the first 500 pages or so. I could not put this book down! Read at your own risk! Be prepared for people to ask if you fell into a ditch and died when you vanish off the face of the earth while reading this book. Maybe update your Facebook status to say you “Fell into a ditch and are reading the Goldfinch for the next few days.” I would definitely recommend reading this book.