Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Review - The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

This was the very definition of an impulse buy. I saw it in Waterstones as their book of the week, saw some of the reviews around it and though it looked suitably epic. From the blurb I was not quite sure what I was expecting, other than I knew I was looking forward to it.

The Blurb:

A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend's family and struggles to make sense of his new life. In the years that follow, he becomes entranced by one of the few things that reminds him of his mother: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the art underworld.

Composed with the skills of a master, The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America, and a drama of almost unbearable acuity and power. It is a story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the enormous power of art.

If ever a book was in dire need of an editor, then the Goldfinch is the one. I recognise that I might be in the minority here as this book has a lot of 5* reviews on Amazon but I found it unnecessarily long.
Any regular readers of my blog will know I am not someone that needs my stories filled with action sequences, quite often I am the opposite. I do however require substance.

The Goldfinch is filled with large passages of exposition where Theo contemplates his life and how it hurtles forward beyond his control. This is fine in places but after a while it becomes a little tedious.

Theo himself is not a very engrossing protagonist. There is nothing unlikeable about him but nor is there anything endearing about his personality. Initially he is a victim of a terrible tragedy but after that he seems to be just “there” as the very slow plot revolves around him. 

Despite having friends as a child, this is never really drawn on. There is a boy he hangs out with at school but we virtually see next to nothing of him. Even his childhood friend is more of an awkward acquaintance who Theo used to stick up for every now and again.

Tartt skips forward various stages of his life which is fine, but unfortunately she chooses to exclude perhaps the most interesting section which is where he makes some illegal decisions in an effort to recuperate money in the antique change. This descent could have been very interesting, instead we rejoin Theo several years later when most of the fraud has already taken place and Theo tried to retrospectively fill in the reasons for his choices.

I mention plot loosely. There is not one so to speak. The story focussed on the life of Theo and his link to the famous painting “the Goldfinch,” which he stole on the day of his mother’s death. Just why Theo is so obsessed with the painting is unexplained. Maybe he associates it with his mother, or maybe he just really admires the art (most probably), still for an obsession so great, I could have used a clearer understanding as to why Theo loved the picture so much.

The other issue I had with the story is that there never seems to be any consequences to Theo actions. Although he is not inherently a bad guy, he still commits some pretty heinous acts. These broadly go unpunished and despite fretting about his actions, his concerns are never realised.

So far I have been rather negative in this review and although the above spoilt my enjoyment of the book to be too harsh on the book would be a gross injustice. There is an awful lot to like about Tartt’s novel. Despite its excessive length the novel is very engaging. The supporting characters are great.

Boris is a brilliant character as the wild, unhinged loose cannon that forms an unlikely friendship with Theo. There is a loyalty there that runs deep but you always get a sense that Boris is one step away from hurting Theo.

It is the relationship between Hobie and Theo that is the heart of the novel. Both lose the one person they care most about in the world and find in each other something they thought they had long lost. With Hobie, Theo finds a purpose to his life and an eagerness to impress, whilst with Theo, Hobie finds an injection of energy that he did not realise he needed.

Theo’s eagerness not to disappoint Hobie is something many people will identify with, but at the same time, he struggles to deviate from the person he has naturally become.
The ending, sum up the book perfectly (albeit unintentionally). The plot point is resolved that you were not 
sure was an actually plot point and this was followed by endless pages of preaching, where there valid, poignant point is laboured to excess.

I enjoyed the Goldfinch a lot, I would not say I loved it.

My rating: 7.4