Fun back story, because I know you come for the back story. My husband bought me this book (it has been on my to-read list… a VERY long list) from a used book store for Christmas two years ago. Inside there is an inscription “To my sweet Love Jo, I hope you’ll enjoy this book… and many more that I plan to give you :) Always yours, Oren Liberman” Then there was some Hebrew (?) and it was dated Feb 9th 2015. So… the detective in me goes to work. Jo could either be I guy or a gal, I am assuming Oren is a man, a man who plans to give many more books and likes to write smiley faces. What happened to Oren and Jo? A mere few months later this book was in a used bookstore being purchased by my guy who likes to give me books. Did one of them die? Was there a falling out? Was Jo using Oren for the books? Cold, Jo, so cold.
The Goldfinch is an interesting book. The low grade has a lot to do with length and organization and some of the literary language that seemed either cliched or juvenile. Some stories are sparse and you wish there were more to it, this is NOT one of those. This one kept going on and on and on and at a certain point I thought that the story was over and the book needed to be to. But then there were a couple hundred pages left. So, with that in your mind, I’ll dive in. The protagonist, Theo, comes from a fairly complicated family and in your average teenaged rebellion begins to act out. His relationship with his mother has always been close, as his dad is your definition deadbeat, but when she is killed in a terrorist attack and Theo miraculously survives, you can add another layer of emotional problems to an already troubled kid. Theo is then taken in by a wealthy friend’s family. Then suddenly Theo’s dad re-enters his life hoping to cash in on some life insurance money and Theo meets Boris, another misfit and eventual frenemy in a big way. Meanwhile, a side story is happening. Theo rescued a rare picture from the explosion and failed to turn it into the authorities. This brings him into contact with another survivor from explosion named Pippa. Pippa suffers some physical trauma and seems to flit in and out of Theo’s life while maintaining a grip on his consciousness. When I say side story, I don’t mean side story in the true sense and this is what Tartt does so well. While day to day life is full of banalities and just things going on, there is a deeper story and Tartt uses the painting as a bit of a metaphor.
Another area where Tartt excels is her knowledge of the art world and her ability to write and describe paintings in an emotive way that brings the reader into the room examining these same pieces of art. The Goldfinch is a real painting so reading Tartt’s descriptions through the characters are interesting because the painting exists as a frame of reference. Toward the end of the book (the part that I didn’t think needed to be there) Tartt delves into the world of high end art theft and the shady characters associated with underworld criminal pursuits. Now, I am a bit of a stolen art junky. I find art thefts so baffling, and interesting. Thank you, Netflix, for providing endless documentaries about stolen art to fill the void. Tartt’s underworld figures seem inept and far fetched, but having read non fiction articles about people dealing with recovering stolen art, I actually think her story might not be so far from reality.
So who is this book for? To whom should I recommend this book? It was written a bit like a beach read, a summer thriller, the ‘next big thing’ book for people who read casually. At the same time, the length is prohibitive and the subject matter wants to be literary fiction. Serious readers of lit fiction will find problems with the one dimensional nature of the vast majority of the characters and bizarre plot twists. One thing The Goldfinch did for me was make me want to read Donna Tartt’s other books. I’ve heard about The Secret History and this came into my path first, and while I didn’t love it overall, I saw enough good that I’ll continue on my Donna Tartt journey.