Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013)

It seems a bit cheeky that my first book review of the year with a book that I read 98% of it in 2013 but, given the size of this book, I think I will not be the only one doing so! I speak, of course, of Donna Tartt’s very long highly anticipated The Goldfinch, her long-awaited follow-up to The Secret History and The Little Prince.

This book is told in the first person by Theodore Decker. His mother is killed in a terrorist attack at the Museum of Modern Art in New York at. Following the explosion, at the behest of a dying man a concussed Theodore steals the famous painting The Goldfinch. The rest of the novel follows Theo as he firstly lives with a wealthy foster family, then his father then his mentor, James Hobart.
There are many many reviews of this book out there – so many that I do feel a bit redundant sharing mine. But what is the point of having a book blog if I don’t get to share my Opinions? (Capital O, of course. My Opinions are many and strong) There were two fundamental things I took from reading this book. Firstly, Donna Tartt is a wonderful writer. Her language is beautiful and evocative and her descriptions of Theo’s grief after losing his mother are poignant and heartbreaking. But this first point is dramatically overshadowed by the second dominating aspect of the novel: this book is too bloody long!
I like a long book – Anna Karenina is one of my favourite books of all time and that is both lengthy and detailed. However, because so little happens in The Goldfinch and because we only ever hear the story from Theo’s perspective, rather than being lost in the story or entranced by the language I found myself becoming increasingly impatient. I wanted to tell Theo (and, by extension, Tartt) to hurry up and get to the point! By the end of the book Tartt had started to write in partial sentences (either Tart was as sick of the book as I was or was trying to use writing style to allow us to enter the mind of the protagonist – whatever the rationale, they were jarring and frustrating). I would estimate that a good third of the book is just about Theo getting wasted. You know how when you’re at a party and you’re sober and everyone else is getting wasted and telling you stupid repetitive stories that go on and on and on? That’s what reading about someone getting wasted all the time feels like. I reached the stage where if the first sentence of a paragraph made any mention of drugs or drug use I skipped it and moved to the next one. Life’s too short for reading the same paragraph rearranged slightly differently 3,000 times.

The most disappointing part of reading The Goldfinch for me was that it had the potential to be a really great book. The concept is great and at times Tartt’s writing is close to divine. It just really needed a good editor to tease out the story and cut back all of the excess verbiage. Instead of reading this book, I recommend re-reading The Secret History instead. 2.5 stars.

My copy is more than 4cm deep! Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to use this book as commuting material. This book is single-bookedly contributing to the death of the published book and rise of the e-reader. 

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