The Goldfinch

By: Donna Tartt

At thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. As he begins to navigate the world in his strange new surroundings, he is disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him and tormented by a longing for his mother. His only solace is the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting of a goldfinch.

As an adult, Theo’s obsession with the piece and refusal to part with it will ultimately put him at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. A circle where powerful men can ruin Theo’s reputation and even take his life.

To Donna Tartt’s credit, The Goldfinch is stressful from start to finish even where the painting isn’t concerned. Theo’s insecurities regarding where he’s going to live and with whom, his relationship with his father, his drug abuse, his complete apathy for school, and his theivery of the painting all culminate in a novel that makes the reader experience the full misery of Theo’s situation. The story didn’t lag which is impressive for a book this size and may be attributed to the density of the information about the main character’s life. However, the final thirty pages were nothing but one long, rambling monolog that put too fine a point on the moral of the story.

I expected the focus of the book would be on Theo running fom some seedy crime organization or getting in trouble with the law. Rather, the book focuses more heavily on Theo’s life and the impact the accident had on his emotional development. The Goldfinch demonstrates how tragic and traumatizing events can mold and reshape people into their worst selves. And sometimes the terrible choices we make are necessary for good to triumph in the end.

Theo begins as a sympathetic character displaced from his home and mourning the loss of his mother. After that, we see him rapidly transforming into the kind of person most of us would despise. Theo seems to understand this feeling as we move through the story since he is admits he’s an asshole while recounting life in autobiographical format. He never claims to be the hero, so I struggle to call him a protagonist. But I can confidently say that his POV is one of the most unlikable of any main character I’ve encountered. 

Normally my dislike for a main character is enough to either make me DNF a book or at least give it a reduced rating, but Tartt’s writing is such that this book is worth the stress and frustration. Often poetic in her prose, she is carful but honest in her depictions of Theo’s battle with depression and drug addiction. On that note, I should state that The Goldfinch may be a sensitive book for anyone who suffers from drug abuse or are affected by family/friends with drug addiction. Theo also has deep bouts of suicidal ideation which are explained in graphic detail. He is unscrupulous and shady in every aspect of his life and has little regard for anything but his own interests. If you don’t think you can stand a main character with piss-poor morals and zero judgement, this is probably not the book for you. But if you think you can handle it, I recommend that you pick up this novel as it’s exceptionally well written. 

Overall rating: 4.5

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