Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Title: The Goldfinch

Author: Donna Tartt

Pages: 771

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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.

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Me…when I FINALLY finished the book. Ha!

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!

Much love,

Globetrotter Momma

 

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50 Comments Add yours

  1. Sahi says:

    I remember I DNFd this one just after a few pages …. Decided not to try literary fiction… Not my type.. 🙄🙄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, Sahi? I think I’m with you on that. It’s really not my thing either. I have made so many attempts already and out of ten works of fiction, I maaaaaaybe like one. I’m not at all surprised you were unable to finish this book. I refused to give up because I was already 300 or so pages in.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Sahi says:

        Haha… it’s difficult to give up books when we have already invested time on them.. These days I don’t feel DNFng them… Too many books to read anyways… I would rather read the ones that make me happy 😊😊😊

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Ah, so true. Very smart! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. afemaleflaneur says:

    That’s such a shame! This was one of those books I had an interest in reading (only small, mind you), but I think your review has cemented the fact I won’t be tackling it just yet, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol. Yeah, I may have been less than flattering in my assessment. But I really must emphasize that her writing truly is admirably erudite and scholarly. Unfortunately, the story was not at all one that interested me. If you enjoy fiction, you may like it. It’s got really great reviews on Goodreads. I just didn’t see what the whole fuss was about.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. afemaleflaneur says:

        Ah. I think you and I look for the same thing – a good story! With great characters. I’m personally someone who can forgive less than great writing in exchange for those. Maybe I will check it out in a month or two though – give it a shot, eh.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I totally agree with you! When it comes to fiction, I’m absolutely more forgiving of the quality of the writing as long as the story itself and the characters are great. But what a blissful union a great story AND great writing make, huh? Those types of books are the ones I tend to read more than once; such as books from Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, George Orwell or Jhumpa Lahiri. Not all can be that gifted though. If you do decide to check it out, please come back and let me know whether you enjoyed it. Best of luck! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed the first half, disliked the second. The motivations and characters didn’t ring true for me. As you mention, great writing, but the narrative didn’t hold together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I couldn’t agree more!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for several good laughs while reading this review.

    Tartt is a writer I would call “challenging”, in both good and bad ways. I get the sense that she doesn’t really care whether readers enjoy every aspect of her book, and has no interest in pandering. I respect that, but it also results in books that can be a bit off-putting.

    I loathed basically everyone in The Secret History. Harriet in The Little Friend was much more relatable, but that book refuses to satisfy with its ending. (I don’t mean the ending is unsatisfying, I mean there is a clear intention by the author to NOT give you what you want.)

    Over time I came to respect the ending of The Little Friend but still basically hate The Secret History.

    If you liked Tartt’s prose, you may enjoy The Little Friend. (I also don’t remember it being long-winded.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! You’re welcome. I’m glad I could make you laugh. Wow, yeah. I love your take on her style. I agree. But I really respected the fact that she intentionally did not offer a trite ending. Boy meets girl. Boy fights to be with girl. Girl rejects boy. Boy eventually prevails. It is soooooo overdone. I liked that she didn’t follow that formula but I really wished the ending would have floored me.
      So much of the book was predictable. As soon as she described Boris’s character and how much time they spent at Theo’s, I knew he would be the one to take the painting which honestly, was doubly disappointing for its predictability and the subsequent improbability of the business that he (a teenage boy) was able to get from it.
      I may check out The Little Friend. However, if I do, it’ll be a few years from now. I really need a break from her.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. She writes one book a decade, so plenty of time to take a break without falling behind. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hahaha. Your comment made me crack up. I hope a decade will suffice to recover from the GF. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  5. dfox1992 says:

    I could not finish this one. As pretty as the writing was, I just couldn’t get into the plot 😕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ugh, I hear you. Clearly, you’re not masochistic like me. I made the mistake of finishing it. You did well not to bother with it! Smart! 😉

      Like

  6. annelogan17 says:

    Oh wow I had no idea this was being made into a movie! It’s been awhile since I read this book, and I did enjoy it, but I do recall it being way too long. Like…hundreds of pages too long!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, they’ve hired some pretty good actors. I think Nicole Kidman would make a decent Mrs. Barbour but for some reason the entire time I was reading the book I kept imagining her with Robin Wright’s face. Personally, I think Timothee Chalamet would make a perfect adult Boris.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with your review! I found it way too long… but yes, I liked the writing too! I wanted to stop reading it but I hate to NOT finish a book.. 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I’m glad to see it wasn’t just my impression. Same here! I feel like I HAVE to finish books. It’s such a self-imposed curse! Lol 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 🤪for sure!! 🤣 me too!!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Gabriel says:

    I thought to myself to put this on my to read list. Now I’m not so sure about it. I mean it kinda sounds to me like ‘Pet sematary’ which wasn’t actually my cup of tea and in the middle of it I wanted to be over.

    I hate to leave a book unread after I started it, but I thought… if it doesn’t bring me joy then put it to rest and read it for some other time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read “Pet Cemetery” but if you’re saying you it sounds like it and you weren’t crazy about that one then I’d say, yeah, just skip the Goldfinch. Otherwise, you may want to try it out. It has really good ratings. I just didn’t understand what the big deal was.
      Same here…I hate the leave a book unread. If I really can’t take it anymore and I’m not committed to posting it on my blog, then I put it back on my bookshelf for another time. It’s funny how mood-driven reading is. What doesn’t work for me today, will completely floor me a couple of years from now.

      Like

  9. susietay says:

    Actually, I liked the Las Vegas parts. Substantive review from someone who’s read carefully.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, much appreciated.

      Like

  10. How many times have I said do someone I have a hate love relationship with this book? I did finish it but it took way too long to finish and as you said above it was just so over the top for me. I felt frustrated and annoyed by all of the characters and after about 350 pages I just wanted it to be over. I would read a few chapters at a time and then put the book down for weeks. Clearly the author has some talent but I think an editor should have taken a few red pens to it and slimmed it down. Everyone says they love all the authors books but after his experience I doubt I would ever try!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My sentiment exactly! You read my mind. It’s very unlikely that I’ll ever give her another shot. I was more irritated than not while I was reading this book. She really is very bright and talented. But her books are not at all for me. Not at all my style.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I’m checking out your post now. 😉

      Like

  11. Kay Hudson says:

    I believe I’ll pass on this one. Life is too short (and that book certainly isn’t!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha. Agreed. Good decision.

      Like

  12. Your review made me laugh at several places – thank you for that 🙂
    I have picked it up several times and then passed because of the size of the book. I have been scarred several times with tomes that book reviewers rave as classics, only to find that the color of the shoelace and the mud on the boots has driven me to insanity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad I could make you laugh. 🙂 Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. Lol, that’s exactly how this book was for me. Towards the end, I was convinced I was starting to lose it.

      Like

  13. Now I remember. I read this book a few years back and never finished it. It sits on my bookshelf staring at me but I couldn’t quite bring myself to resume the read. You describe my frustrating exactly. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! I’m glad to hear I’m not alone on this. If I were you, I’d leave it on that bookshelf or give it to the library.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think I’d even attempt again. Donating it is a good idea. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow. Thank you very much for this nomination. I’m humbled. I’ll check out the rules later tonight. 🙂

      Like

  14. Donna Tartt’s works are very marmite, there’s no in-between… but I loved this book for all the reasons you hated! Her writing is addictive, her storytelling in this book was so compelling. I agree that Theo is unlikeable but it seems that was the intention but Hobie… no way, how can you not like him? 🤭 he’s a sweetie!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha. Yeah, Hobie was too conveniently absentminded for my taste. I can’t tell you enough all the ways I disliked this book. But I do agree that her writing is exquisite. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Joan Slowey says:

    I must be the only person in the whole world who loved this book – and all Donna Tartt’s books – but this one especially. I was totally submerged in it, especially the Las Vegas part. But your review made for very interesting reading and I look forward to more of the same. What’s your view on Patrick de Witt? He is my all time favourite author, surpassing even Dickens and Joseph O’Connor and Steinbeck. It has been said of him that his first book “Ablutions” Is not as good as the subsequent two but I liked it best so far. I’ve written a review of it on my blog, or should that be a paean?? I’m waiting for September to get his latest, “French Exit”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s wonderful that you enjoyed this book. The world would be dreary and drab if we all liked the exact same things. In all honesty, I’ve never read anything from Patrick de Witt so I wouldn’t be able to say. I’ll look into his books though and let you know. 🙂 But I MUST say….and please don’t hate me for this….I am not at ALL a Dickens fan. Sorry! 😉

      Like

      1. Joan Slowey says:

        Hello there globetrotting mama. I am aware that Dickens isn’t popular these days but he always makes me laugh. I’m also very attached to Orwell and Annie Proulx and Paul Theroux. I was delighted when I came across Patrick de Witt as he is a young man, forty-ish. I’m not a young woman – or even middle-aged now – and it pleases me not to be stuck in love with ancient writers! I wrote a few articles on writers no one reads any more – you might have an interested look at them.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Definitely sounds interesting. I’ll take a look. Thanks Joan!

        Like

  16. I started it twice and still need to finish it. I think it’s one of those that I have to be a mood for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. It thought it was brutal to get through. But I do wish I could write as eloquently as her.

      Like

  17. Juan says:

    I’ve been meaning to put this on my reading list for this year. But after reading your thorough review, I’m not sure now. I love good writing, but really want something that’s easier to get through. I’ve had my share of challenging reads lately.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You may very well like it. So many people do! I’m just not one of them. Which difficult reads have you recently encountered? Maybe it’s something I’m considering reading.

      Like

  18. This is EXACTLY how I felt about this book. Gorgeous writing but . . . I didn’t finish it. I felt the same about The Secret History. I didn’t like any of the characters. I mean, I don’t HAVE to like or have sympathy for characters to like the book, but I need to at least find them interesting and dynamic.

    BTW, thanks for “liking” my blog post. I appreciate anyone reading it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! I’m seeing little by little that I’m not alone here on my views on this book. You’re welcome! I enjoyed the post. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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