My rating: 4 stars
The Goldfinch follows the story of Theo Decker over more than a decade. It starts with him as a thirteen-year-old, who somehow survives an accident that kills his mother. With his father out of the picture, Theo moves in with the Barbours, the family of a wealthy school friend who live in a world completely detached from his former life. Stumbling through this new world of money, and further detached from normality when his father suddenly reappears and whisks him off to a new and debauched life in Las Vegas, Theo clings to the only thing which reminds him of his old life and his mother – a small painting called The Goldfinch. A chance encounter with Boris, the existential son of a shady Russian businessman, sends Theo down the path of drinking, drugs and theft, issues which will follow him into his adult life. Only Hobie, an intellectual furniture restorer, provides Theo with the care he needs.
This is Donna Tartt’s third novel (after The Secret History and The Little Friend) and, following in the footsteps of her previous works, is a weighty tome full of rich descriptive passages and Tartt could justifiably be regarded as a 21st century Charles Dickens. As with her other novels, she deals with themes of drinking, drug taking and human relationships. These relationships can be inherently flawed (as with Theo and his father), mutually destructive (Theo and Boris) or caring (Theo and Hobie). The overarching question of the novel is whether we are shaped by our circumstances, subject to the whims of Fate, or whether we can choose our own destiny.
Although the skill of Tartt’s writing meant that I was tempted to give this book 5 stars, I didn’t feel able to. I felt it dragged somewhat and found myself getting bored towards the end. Perhaps part of my reluctance to give full marks stems from the fact that I listened to the audiobook of this title and really disliked the narrator, but there were times when I found it difficult to engage with the story. However, there is no doubt that Tartt is an impressive writer and at 773 pages she has created a richly complex world within this hefty tome.
Verdict: This is not a quick read, but it is immersive. As with her other books, many of the characters are thoroughly unpleasant, however there are glimmers of hope. Read this if you want something which will draw you in and make you think, with writing which will captivate you with its complexity.