Review / The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I spent some time with this book. Goodreads tells me it was 36 days, exactly. I gave it 3 stars. I’m not sure what I wanted from The Goldfinch, but I wasn’t quite satisfied. Perhaps I wanted intrigue, more movement. The back cover—mine bent and curling now—promises the protagonist trapped inside these pages is “at the center of a narrowing, dangerous circle.” Well, I guess.

I mean, let me not be flippant, the danger is there. The weighty anticipation of it, 600 or so pages in, kept me going. Deep in the narrative, I prepared myself for whatever Theo might come up against, his actions in the previous pages creating more and more knots in the thread of his life. But like, damn Donna, get to it already. 

I hate going over plot in a review. That’s what the back cover is for, honestly, so I’ll skip it. I read this book because The Secret History is one of my favorite books and Tartt seems more than capable of crafting a story rich enough to hold me for 700+ pages. Which The Goldfinch does, mostly. It’s just that, in that last stretch, well, I began skimming paragraphs of dialogue—even the choppy, hilarious prose she writes for Boris, and he’s arguably the most interesting character in the novel.

There is a climax and I was bored. Like a thing you’ve been waiting for all week that just somehow doesn’t satisfy. The thing is, I don’t think the book fails at anything it sets out to do. It’s not really meant to be a thriller; this book has many other mysteries on its mind. Fate and character and art and beauty and the meaning we give to objects. That is all there, and these preoccupations are built into the narrative beautifully, for the most part. 

I just didn’t care much for those things. And that is why I was disappointed, I suppose. It’s a fine book, and intriguing for nearly all of its pages. There is a section in the first half of the book, when Theo lives in Las Vegas and meets the unforgettable Boris. This is a rich, rich section that shows off Tartt’s ability to create believable, meaningful relationships between characters. The momentum in this section carries through until the final fourth of the book. Then and only then did reading it feel a bit like a chore, until I finally had to sigh and skim and eventually realize that what I wanted and what Tartt intended are two different things.

This is a book worth reading, but be forewarned: upon completion you may not feel properly rewarded for your efforts. 

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