the goldfinch review.

This book has been on my radar for months and finally one day I decided to get it. I had extremely unrealistic expectations that I could knock out this book in a few weeks. Oh, was I wrong. Throw in moving to a different state, starting a new job, and life in general. It took me about two months to finish this book. But it was worth it.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is a story about Theo Decker, who survives an accident that kills his mother. His life is completely dislodged and follows along his journey to gain a grasp on reality. And then there’s a painting, The Goldfinch. 

“But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illuminated in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.”

Commonly compared to the likes of Dickens’ work. Tartt explores the underpinnings of classes in the U.S. as well as the comparison of cruelty and kindness, often characterized by the same person. The characters in The Goldfinch are flawed, but their flaws ground them in their humanity. I think a lot of people draw the comparison to Dickens from the length of the novel.

The Goldfinch runs around 700 pages and while it could have been shortened, it worked for me. I appreciated her lengthy descriptions of moments because I felt fully immersed in what was happening. The attention to details is impeccable. 

This story covers so much ground, with no shortcuts: from the Upper West Side moneyed elite to gambling addicts in the suburbs of Vegas, from a Lower East Side drug den for decadents gone to seed to the charming Christmastime streets of Amsterdam. Nothing is two-dimensional: if a characters restores furniture, you will learn every aspect about wood and veneers and myriad adherents. You can tell Tartt did her homework.

“And just as music is the space between notes, just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of color across the sky – so the space where I exist, and I want to keep existing, and to be quite frank I hope I die in, is exactly this middle distance: where despair struck pure otherness and created something sublime.”

Philosophy, art history, baccarat, heroin. Proust, childhood bullies, Russian drug-dealers. The cut of a jewel, the play of light through a crooked blind. The way a small dog remembers someone it hasn’t seen in ten years. The way the very rich handle mental illness in the family. The way a teenage boy feels after taking acid for the first time. The bonds between people that last a lifetime. The power of art to change a life, to change a million lives; the immortality of a work of art and the line of beauty that connects generation after generation of appreciators. How it feels to be always and ever in love with the wrong person—and how perfect and perfectly flawed she is, or he is, all the same. The way people age. The way people cling to each other at the wrongest of times, in the unlikeliest ways. 

This story made me laugh, cry, and feel unlike any book I’ve read before. Tartt found a way to see beauty in small moments when chaos is swirling all around. It’s a book that reaffirmed my faith in literature, and made me completely astonished by its power and poise and brilliance.

“We are so customed to disguise ourselves to others that, in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.”

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