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Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I am ridiculously late to the party here, but I finally read The Goldfinch!  It’s not just in Blogland, but at real life work the whole adult population of the school seemed to have read it last year too (as in teachers, teaching assistants, receptionists, guidance leaders).

Having said “adult population” I have passed it on to my daughter to read and wonder what she will make of its perspective.  It’s a tricky voice that Donna Tartt has successfully pulled off, that of precocious adolescent thrown into turmoil that a boy of that age shouldn’t have to deal with.  That’s a question that has worried me since my husband was alive – we both used to worry about what would happen if we both died, as we knew no adults who we thought able to raise the girls in a sympathetic manner.  I never did solve that conundrum – a lovely couple of friends very kindly agreed to fill the role if anything had happened to me, but I am sure the girls would have found it difficult to adapt to the different environment, and they are a couple of years older and therefore more capable aware than Theo Decker at the beginning of the novel.

The novel made me reflect too on how compelling the child/adolescent voice section of a novel can be so much more compelling and memorable than the adult section when it is done well.  I am thinking of Jane Eyre and of Great Expectations.  Although The Goldfinch has been described as Dickensian in the vividness of its characterisation and description, I would venture (non-Dickens fan alert here) that The Goldfinch is much more tightly plotted than any of Dickens’s sprawling, serialised works.

The stand out feature for me was Tartt’s understanding of what it is that attracts us to other people, and how our needs are especially and sometimes indelibly imprinted upon us when we are at our most vulnerable.  It’s a theme that I’m writing about at the moment, although what with having read this and The Bone Clocks, it also makes me think “B*** it, why not just pack it in now, since Tartt and Mitchell have already said everything there is to be said on the subject?”

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14 Comments

  1. Sounds like another book to add to my never ending to read pile! My hubby & I have also been in this conundrum since our eldest came along, and are still none the wiser six years later!!

  2. Great review! I liked The Goldfinch. I agree that Tartt managed to pull off the adolescent voice, but I thought it was odd that a boy who grew up with Harry Potter in a post-9/11 world would write letters and burn/buy CDs.

    • You are right! I am inadequately down with the kids I think to pick up on these anomalies, because to me, those things are just yesterday. Aargh!

  3. I also think you should carry on. Who knows where it will take you. I still have vinyl LPs so I guess I am even more out of touch.

  4. I struggled through the middle of this book. I didn’t like Theo much in the middle and I couldn’t see that anything that was happening was going anywhere – in that way I would say that it was very much like a Dickens novel! But it was so beautifully written that I had to keep going. And I think in the end it was a very solid read for me. But I liked The Secret History a lot more.

    • Yes, there was a really abrupt change in Theo between adult and child and it did cause me to raise my eyebrows. It did make me think how strong the writing about Theo’s childhood had been to keep my sympathy with him through that stage and I did read that bit more quickly too, as it wasn’t quite as enjoyable.

  5. Been meaning to read this too! Looking forward to getting into it after your post (also am having a lot of fun going through your blog atm, love it here!)

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