A book with a color in the title: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Donna Tartt is a wonderfully descriptive writer. She has the ability to describe a scene, an object, a person, etc. in such rich detail that you can actually formulate a vivid picture in your mind. She does with prose the exact opposite of Hemingway—she does not make you as a reader work for the experience at all; it’s laid out before you. Hence, the book being a good 700 pages long. If I had a major gripe with this novel, it would be the length. With a tad fewer descriptive passages and perhaps a few less philosophical rants, the novel would have been a more bearable length. Toward the end, I stopped being invested in the story.I just wanted things to be over and stopped really caring about the resolution. The longer it dragged, the more I disliked the narrator and felt Tartt’s authenticity as a storyteller weakening. As a whole, it was an enjoyable experience, but she could have cut it in about half and had a better-finished product (in my humble opinion).
The novel starts with our narrator Theo Decker recalling backward through his past to a “where it all began” moment. For Theo, it begins at the age of 13 when he is suspended from his fancy NYC prep school for some tom foolery. Before you begin hating his guts, though, understand that the implication is Theo is a “scholarship kid” amidst the rich and powerful of New York City’s elite. On the fateful day where his story begins, he and his mother are on their way to discuss his suspension with the school principal when they are caught up in a rainstorm. There’s no place to duck in and wait out the storm except a nearby art museum that he and his mother have frequented before. They enter the museum and peruse several pieces of artwork before they are getting ready to leave. Theo’s mother decides to take a final look at her favorite painting and says she’ll meet him in the gift shop. A few moments later, a bomb explodes within the art gallery, shattering Theo’s life irrevocably.
The rest of the novel follows Theo as he navigates his future following the tragedy of the bombing. It also traces his trajectory from a schoolboy going down a troublesome path to a conman continuing down that same path into his adulthood, swindling customers in his antiques business. The dark road Theo travels down becomes increasingly disheartening until you, as a reader, cannot really stand him or his half-hearted justifications any longer. He becomes such an awful person by the end that you don’t really feel sorry for him or the outcome that his terrible choices have brought him to. The last few chapters are him trying to rationalize that even out of bad choices can come good outcomes, etc. and he is making an attempt to rectify the wrongs he perpetrated throughout the novel, but to me it was too little too late. I was happy to close the book and be done with him. For as smart and talented as he was, to throw all that away and then end up without truly being “punished” bothered me, as a person who works so hard to be good and make the right choices and still never gets anywhere. Of course, perhaps this is the point Tartt tries to make, but…not my favorite narrator, and by far not the best book I have read lately.