Review: The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

While I have been reading as much as ever, I have been so busy with other things that I’ve not really had time to write reviews for the last couple of months. For one thing, we have a new grandson, Arthur, and our daughter has needed help with the baby’s two sisters, Iris and Florence, who are both under five years old (leading to many afternoons surrounded by plastic bouncers, ball-pools and climbing frames in “Soft Play”).  I’ve also taken on the creation of a website for a charity which is taking up huge amount of my time.  However, I’ve found time today to write a review of a book which has consumed much of my attention for the last week and here it is:

goldfinchI am one of the many people who have been waiting for years for Donna Tartt to bring out a novel equal to her first – The Secret History. Her Second Novel, The Little Friend, did not really hit the spot for me, although I read through it happily enough while waiting for the same literary buzz that The Secret History gave me.  Now at last, Donna Tartt has met my expectations by producing this fantastic, nearly 800 page novel, The Goldfinch.

I was fortunate enough to see a review copy of the book and while I was initially daunted by the scale of the book (and not exactly attracted by the blurb on the cover), I started to read it and was immediately drawn in and captivated. There is something about good writing which makes is just as satisfying as a good meal. I found a sort of nourishment going on in my head as I read through Tartt’s elegant prose. It’s not just the elegance however, it’s the sheer pulsating interest of the book – this is the ultimate “good read” sought after by book-lovers the world over. Even the first chapter has an extremely dramatic event at it’s core, and straight away you find yourself wondering “where can this go to next”?

Many reviewers have suggested that there is a sort of Dickensian feel to this book for like Dickens, Tartt can delve into huge amount of detail without being boring.  There are even some similarities between The Goldfinch and Great Expectations in the way that a young boy finds fame and fortune through an extremely convoluted route.

Although the book has an epic scale, it can also seem microscopic in the way the author recounts small episodes. A tour round an art gallery makes you feel that you are there yourself, and nobody reading this book will be able to resist seeking out the painting of The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius on the website of The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in order to ponder the predicament of this tiny bird, chained to its perch.

goldfinch 1

The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius

At the centre of the book is the life of young Theo Decker, a young boy whose finds himself motherless and abandoned by his disreputable father (what a picture of grief Tartt portrays in the first part of the novel!).  He is fostered by a wealthy family in Greenwich Village where he finds himself the subject of whispered conversations, perpetually on the edge of this eccentric family.  Through a chance (but serendipitous) meeting with a far more accepting furniture restorer he finds himself being inducted into the mysteries of the antiques trade and the arts of renovation, all beautifully described by the author.

Later, Theo’s father turns up with his current girl-friend to claim his son and drag him off to Las Vegas, which turns out to be a far more alarming existence in the depths of “Sin City”.  Here at least he meets his life-long friend Boris, a real Artful Dodger character who will accompany Theo through the main adventure of his adult life.

There is so much in this book – few people will not be fascinated by his Greyhound Bus trip back to New York, or much later on, by the serious criminality which yields huge financial returns as Theo gets embroiled in a dangerous world of gangsterism in Amsterdam. This is only a fraction of the events contained in this book however, and I wouldn’t even try to mention more for fear of spoiling it.  Very often, “literary fiction” meanders along on a wave of stylish phrasing and highly-refined atmosphere.  Donna Tartt, while being a “literary” as any living author, does not hesitate to employ her elegant writing style to describe murder, drug abuse and general mayhem. In fact, had the book been compressed to about half its length it could be re-cast as a thriller with little difficulty.  But then we would have lost the whole point of the novel: it’s epic scale (Dickens again, or maybe even Dostoevsky) its vast scope and its immersive qualities.  With it’s 700+ pages this is no quick read, but I would not want to have a single page cut from it.

There are so many reviews of this much-awaited book that it’s easy to be put off reading it for fear that it can never live up to its promise. However, I would urge you to put aside the views of others and dive into this vast but totally absorbing world. I think that like myself, despite The Goldfinch’s great length you will end up wanting to spin it out to prevent it from ending too soon. Altogether a masterly work of fiction well worth waiting for.

23 comments to Review: The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

  • You’ve convinced me:)

  • Hi Lisa – thanks for visiting me, despite my neglect of book blogging lately. I’m sure my enthusiasm will all rush back eventually once I’m over this particular busy spell.

  • David Fleming

    Been reading this for a few days. Just got to the greyhound station today, so thankfully no spoilers for me here.
    I read the Secret History as a college student and missed The Little Friend so it’s like I’ve found a new author.
    Well deserving of all the praise it’s receiving, I’m loving The Goldfinch. Deliberately trying to pace myself (normally a pretty fast reader) to make it last. Only half-succeeding – almost have to force myself to put it down.

    Thanks for the review.

    Like your site a lot.

  • Hi David – Thanks greatly for your comment – it’s very rewarding when you receive evidence that someone actually READS what you write. If you’re only at the Greyhound part of the book then you have a roller coaster ride coming your way before too long. It’s a book which builds in excitement as it progresses unlike so many others.

  • Thanks for sharing your ideas and your high opinion about this book. You have convinced me. I have put the title on the top of my “to buy when I’m in town”-list. And lovely to hear from you again and congratulations and all the best for the growing family. Anna

  • Reyhan Chaudhuri

    Felicitations to the Cunliffe family [especially the grandparents]on their joy of a newborn one.In India we say,’jugjug jiyo!’[jug is pronounced like 'book' and not the 'milk jug'.]
    This seems to be a perfect read for the long sweltering summer holidays in India,certainly not for the much awaited and fabulous mild winters,we have…
    Also,thank you for not revealing all the ‘events’ in the book.

  • David Fleming

    Spotted your review via Donna Tartt on Facebook. So SOMEONE is reading you

  • David – Wow! I am flattered indeed. Thanks for pointing that out. It’s like getting a mensh from Hemingway or something.

  • Reyhan – thank you greatly for your visit – my best regards to you and your family. I write my thoughts down and people read them from all over the world – quite amazing. I try to avoid “spoilers” in my reviews – there is nothing worse than a reviewer who forgets about this. May you enjoy your winter. Are you watching the chess?

  • I’m reading it now and loving it too. Do not want it to end. Up to page 512, much has happened and yes, the excitement is building even more now. Her pacing is amazing, the characters fantastic. It’s quite extraordinary. I read Winton’s Eyrie right before this one, and Tsiolkas’s Barracuda right before Eyrie. I liked Eyrie, not so much Barracuda, but this one, THIS one has knocked both those out of the ballpark, as they say. It’s incredible. And agree with you, loved The Secret History but not The Little Friend. This is amazing and Tartt gives a great interview too if you look around.
    (came via facebook as well)

  • Hi Jenny – thanks for visiting. It’s nice when other people agree with your review and always interesting to see what other people pick out as good about the book.

  • Hi Anna – thanks for your good wishes. I hope you enjoy the book. I am pleased to say that other reviewers also think it’s a very fine read

  • I was not sure I should read this. I loved The Secret History, but was very lukewarm about The Little Friend. Now it’s met with your stamp of approval it’s definitely going onto the tbr list!

  • Peter McShane

    Like others, I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret History but never really got to grips with her second novel. I’ve been weighing up the various reviews of The Goldfinch, but your review and comments from contributors have persuaded me that this is essential reading.
    Congratulations on the arrival of your grandson. We too have an Iris for a granddaughter – it’s good to see some of these traditional names gradually acquiring fresh popularity.

  • You have written many of my exact feelings about Dnna Tartt, in that we both loved The Secret History and were nonplussed by The Little Friend while waiting for so etching to take our breath (again), half afraid that what she came up wih next wouldn’t do that again. So glad to know that isn’t the case with The Goldfinch which I have downloaded to my nook in great anticipation. Loved your review.

  • Thanks for visiting Bellezza – I really hope you enjoy this fine novel as much as I did. It just builds in pace all the way through so you need to keep with it I think

  • Hello Peter – nice to hear from you again. Yes, we have Iris, Florence and Arthur now – giving the impression of a 1930s family I think!. I’m very rewarded that you still find the time to visit my website occasionally – it’s not been kept up to date much in the last three months but I hope to maintain a slightly higher flow of articles from now on.

  • Hi Anna – thanks for visiting. Well, I don’t think I’m alone in enjoying it so you you should be fairly safe with this one. all the very best to you

  • Thanks for this review. It’s on my to-read pile and now I’ll make it my next book. SD

  • nice review!i would love to read this book.thanks for sharing.

  • I just read this review – I had it saved for later and only just rediscovered it. Oddly it’s the second review of this I’ve read in just a couple of days, and you make a really good case for it. I hadn’t been planning on reading The Goldfinch, but your description of it as a successful combination of thriller elements with literary depth and without any sacrificing of that depth for the more exciting pieces makes it sound very attractive.

  • Hi Max, thanks for visiting. I sometimes meet people who are reading The Goldfinch and they are always very involved in it and seem to be enjoying it. It’s a very long book but it’s a tribute to Tartt that she manages to control it throughout. I hope you enjoy it should get to it

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