Title: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
There is no middle ground here from which to part. The cons seem to outweigh the pros (now that I’ve demarcated them here). I seriously disliked this book but unreservedly loved the writing. I know…confusing. Let me explain. The author’s writing is literary and exquisite yet garrulous and pretentious. Each page felt like a perfect review of all of the rules plainly laid out in Steven King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I kept thinking, “Wow…spot on! She’s gotten it all right! She MUST have read it too!” Her writing is ambitious and her style is worthy of notice. She absolutely mastered the skill of describing surroundings and people well yet, to the point of endlessly droning on about the smallest aspects. Sometimes the detail was so longwinded; I would have to put the book down to take a break from the endlessness of it all. It was all-consuming. Prodigious. It’s as if the manuscript never made its way to the editor’s desk. Had it not been for the boundless detail, this book would have been 350 – 400 pages long…max!
Ms. Tartt is clearly a remarkably talented writer. However, the storyline was incredible and convoluted and the characters were unlikeable; even the ones that were meant to be likable. The book started well enough but so much of it was inconceivable. A mom taking her son to an exhibition at a museum after he’d been expelled from school for getting caught smoking. Nothing says “You’re grounded!” like a day out on the town! A visibly injured, barely pubescent child running out of a bomb scene completely unnoticed and unobstructed by the rescue team stationed outside when he’s making a mad dash for his apartment several blocks away? No one noticing the binder-sized framed bulky artwork in his jacket (or backpack, can’t recall) or that he’s visibly disheveled from the wreck when he goes to ask the firemen how to get back into the building to check on the remaining victims? Illegally taking a painting worth millions from the museum at the behest of a dying stranger? C’mon! What is this? And the rest of the book is just as implausible.
The story is laden with drug-addicted, affluent, cultured young misfit characters gone astray (so pedestrian). I disliked Theo. Was the kid ever going to react to anything?! He was perpetually aggrieved with numbness, puzzlement and/or idiocy. I kept expecting to get to know him a bit at some point but every time the reader is finally allowed a closer look, there was nothing there. It was like looking into a cosmic black hole. Every other sentence was a reworked description of an awkward silence that he seemed to experience with absolutely every single supporting character that crossed his path. Every one of those moments of silence, awkwardness and not knowing what to say or do next, made me think the guy was an ignoramus. I couldn’t understand why he was caught off guard so often, why his mind was always blank and he was so slow to react. And I mean, even over the most elementary of conversations or situations. It was infuriating.
Boris was a calamitous fusion of a Jim Carrey-esk magniloquent caricature and a hackneyed charlatan from the Russian bratva. The guy can talk in circles for ages! Pippa was inconsequential and lacked any resemblance of a personality. Hobie was conveniently absentminded. Kitsey was annoying. Platt was irrelevant. Mrs. Barbour was self-absorbed. Theo’s father, in my opinion, didn’t die soon enough. Xandra was an empty shell of a human being with a great figure. The rest of the characters were just as odious. The only “character” that I cared for was Poppy, the dog. And when I say, “cared for” I mean to say worried about incessantly! This poor dog was left home alone in Vegas for more than a week while the owners were in NYC! They repeatedly left him outside in the scorching desert heat. They would smoke-out in confined spaces where he would be sleeping. He was placed in a felt bag for a two or three-day bus ride. He was forgotten in someone’s car overnight! Ugh, …it was nerve-racking whenever Poppy’s name came up!
The part about Theo living in Las Vegas and his teenage antics with his friend, Boris, was ceaseless. How much can possibly be said about afterschool pot-smoking, loose change scourging, pizza ordering, and illegal binge drinking? Holy cow! This section was roughly 150 pages long. I had almost given up on the book at that point. It was torture! But I kept telling myself “it must be about to get good” since it had such stellar reviews on Goodreads. Well my lovelies, the unfortunate reality is that that moment never came! So much about the book was tiresome. Endless descriptions of antiques and famous artwork. Endless descriptions of repairs of antiques and artwork. Endless descriptions of the antique and artwork underworld. Endless descriptions of the types of collectors of antiques and artwork. Endless descriptions of drug abuse, binge drinking, numbing, social awkwardness and dissociation.
This was not my bag, baby. I’ve read before other depressing books with unprecedented endings. But those had at least one likable or relatable character and an interesting storyline. And those books didn’t make me so incredibly anxious! I was constantly uneasy while reading this book but not in an on-the-edge-of-my-seat kind of way. But more of an I-sure-could-use-one-of-those-Xanax-right-now kind of ways.
I gave it two stars on Goodreads because the technique was flawless, the transitions were smooth, the ending was unpredictable and the writing was clever even though I didn’t care one bit for the inexorable whiny tone, the plot, the characters, the ending (even though it was unpredictable, I wish it would have been more jaw-dropping but instead it was bland), or the fact that it was mercilessly long (771 pages!!!). I heard it’s being made into a movie. I won’t be running to the theater to watch it. Let me know whether you get a chance to read it!