The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

Overview: "The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind....Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction."—Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love—and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Winner of the 2014 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2013

Linda Smither (01/11/17): Ughhhh... I can't decide if I loved or hated this book.

Pros: Interesting plot, well developed characters, a great ending.

Cons: I was mad at the main character for making one poor choice after another. Mad at the author for killing off, disrupting, or taking away one good thing/person after another from main character. Mad at Editor for allowing so many Proustian passages, thereby resulting in a whopping 771 page book.

But I joyfully read it to the bitter end and spent a lot of time thinking about it, that a sign of a good book, right? 3.5 stars

Rating: ***

Rona Simmons (04/20/16): I wanted desperately to love this book. And, finishing it, I would have rated a version half its size with five stars. That’s all I will say.

“Only--if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And, isn’t the whole point of things--beautiful things--that they connect you to some larger beauty?

“And--maybe it’s ridiculous to go on in this vein, (BUT THE AUTHOR DOES, REPEATING THIS PHRASE) although it doesn’t matter since no one’s ever going to see this --but does it make any sense at all to know that it ends badly for all of us, even the happiest of us, and that we all lose everything that matters in the end--and yet to know as well, despite all this, as cruelly as the game is stacked, that it’s possible to play it with a kind of joy? Beautifully written prose and full of twists and turns and though I'm glad I finished it even if I skimmed much of the last 200 page I could not recommend the book unless you just want to say you read it.
Rating: ***

Anne Ferber (09/18/14): I loved loved LOVED this book!Yes, it was long. Yes, she did go on and on about his drug habits, his illnesses, the RAIN; so much rain that one could almost question the whole global warming controversy. And, aside from a survey course on classical art and antique furniture, the people were all so interesting, I found myself wishing I could somehow time travel and just ingratiate myself into the plot.

The actual plot line has been well discussed here and in the thousands of reviews this book received: Thirteen year old Theo Decker and his mother Audrey, are victims of a bomb blast in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She perishes, and he survives the ruble, escaping with a small, priceless painting named The Goldfinch in his tote bag. And for the next 14 years, we follow Theo's journey, taking him from a wealthy family on Park Ave, NYC to the desert of Las Vegas where he lives with his father, a poor role model due to a gambling and alcohol addiction. Here his only family becomes Boris, a Ukrainian immigrant philosopher his own age, who's abusive father is also mainly absent.

Eventually at the age of 15 he returns to NYC and is mentored by an avuncular James Hobart (Hobie), a furniture restorer, who not only provides a kind and safe environment but teaches him a trade. Finally, after a lot of rainy days and suffering, Theo ends up in a hotel room in Amsterdam at the age of 27 contemplating suicide, his guilt (over the painting) and loss of his mother still causing intense pain. The deus ex machina comes in the form of good old Boris, which allows life to go on. And then follows, what we've all(actually me) been waiting for: A long soliloquy on life and art.I Loved it!!!

Critics have compared this novel to Dickens, Russian masterpieces, and other critics have had fun panning those critics saying it's no such thing. James Woods of the New Yorker went so far as to suggest that she forget about the painting and the antique furniture and call the novel "Theo Decker" and just tell the story of Theo in Las Vegas. That reminds me of the old Jack Nicholson movie: 5 Easy Pieces: "Give me a chicken salad sandwich on toast; and hold the chicken salad, lettuce and mayo."
Rating: *****

Helaine Sugarman (07/01/14): The time spent in Las Vegas felt like 900 pages, itself!
Rating: **

Debbie Weiss (06/26/14): The Goldfinch certainly is an exceptional book. It captured me with its story line and with its characters from page 1. I agree with all the other reviews you see on this page; the writing was excellent, character development was outstanding and the story itself was compelling. I also agree that the book was a little too long -- the author could have cut out a few hundred pages.

We follow the main character, Theo, from age 13 through young adulthood. Our heart hurts while we read about all the challenges he has to face in his life. I really liked Theo a lot and I was mad at him for getting involved in alcohol and drugs, but who could really blame him. He needed these crutches to escape from what life was offering him. The story revolves around the painting that Theo took from the museum after he survived a bomb blast in that building. That one act absolutely haunted him and changed his life forever. I kept thinking, "Just give the painting back. They will understand because you were just a young child at the time..." However, Theo had his own thoughts about what to do with the painting! I highly recommend this book.
Rating: ****+

Judy Stanton (03/31/14): I feel like I haven't written a book review in a month, and that is because I was reading this VERY LONG book. While Donna Tartt is a great writer and the storyline was interesting, I would probably have loved it if it was about 300 pages shorter. But, I did like it. I was thoroughly engaged with Theo Decker, wanting to know what would happen to this poor young boy left alone in NYC when his mother dies in a terrorist attack on a museum. When he's forced to live with his irresponsible father, he takes up with another lost soul, Borris, a young man who also is without true family support. It saddened me to think that some children probably do live in these awful types of circumstances. The saga taking the reader from NYC to Vegas to Amsterdam and the twists and turns in the fate of the Goldfinch painting certainly kept the reader engrossed. I am sold enough to want to read her other books.
Rating: ****

Ricki Brodie (01/13/14): Thirteen year old, Theo Decker, goes with his mother to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where The Goldfinch, a 350-year old masterpiece, tiny in size, by Fabritius is on loan. Theo spots a young girl who captivates his heart with an older gentleman. Theo is separated from his mother when a bomb explodes. His mother is one of the victims. Theo survives and stays with the old man until he dies. He receives a ring from him and a company name. Theo, unable to make contact with rescuers, picks up the painting and finds a way out of the museum. The story tells what happens to Theo and the painting and the mystique it held for him.

Theo’s alcoholic father had abandoned him and his mother. A family of a friend who like Theo had been ostracized at school take him into their Park Avenue home. He then visits the partner of the dead old man and finds the young girl only to lose her again. He learns about antiques and find comfort with the man. His father resurfaces and whisks him off to Las Vegas. There he befriends a Russian boy in his class. Theo becomes hooked on booze and alcohol. Eventually he returns to NY and is welcomed back into Park Avenue and antiques. He finds himself involved in fraud and deceit. Throughout the book, Theo obsesses constantly about the painting and how he can return it.

The book has many twist and turns with well-developed characters, beautifully drawn images, suspense, love, and a quest for identity. The discussion as to the sustainability of art is summed up in the end in his comment “it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.”
Rating: *****

Gail Reid (01/13/14): Donna Tartt's new novel, her first in 10 years, covers 14 years in the life of her lead character Theo Decker. At age 13, Theo's beloved mother is killed when a terrorist bomb explodes at a New York City museum. Injured himself, Theo manages to escape but not before encountering another museum victim whose dying words and actions will impact Theo's entire future. A world famous painting entitled The Goldfinch, disappears that day from the museum; and Theo’s next 14 years are mysteriously wrapped up with that event.

Essentially orphaned, Theo bounces from living with a schoolmate's upper crust but sterile family to moving unwillingly to Las Vegas when his alcoholic dad surfaces, having reinvented himself as a gambler. In Las Vegas he befriends a Russian boy Boris, who has lived all over the world, and has managed to fit a lifetime of travel experiences, alcohol and drug abuse into a few short years. The environment is toxic and dangerous for Theo; and his father’s death is an opportunity to get back to New York.

He seeks solace from Hobie, the business partner of the man whose death he witnessed at the museum and Hobie introduces him to the world of antiques and craftsmanship. Together they create an unusual kind of family and business partnership. But the disappearance of the museum masterpiece with which Theo is involved follows him throughout his life and is the underlying force behind all his decisions. Theo is far from perfect. Character flaws abound and his decisions are sometimes poor choices with largely negative repercussions.

At 750 pages, this novel requires investment of your time but is well worth it. The mystery parts are often riveting and large sections of this tome move swiftly. The writing, both narrative and dialogue, is really terrific as are the characters. The New York Times says it is one of the best books of 2013. So what’s wrong? Gee, it’s overly long. I still would have loved it at 600 pages. With most writing, I am a fan of “less is more” and wish this book could have been edited a bit more tightly.
Rating: ****

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