Book.Review: The Goldfinch


I picked up The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt because it sounded intriguing.  I’m trying to remember if it had already been designated a Pulitizer prize winner when I purchased it. What I do remember is that I very much enjoyed Ms. Tartt’s novel The Secret History and thought that this should be a good book too.

But this book, this book really tried my patience.  The story is good, some of the prose beautiful, but as so many of the Amazon reviewers stated, Ms. Tartt needed an honest editor. The Goldfinch should have been about 450 pages, not 750 pages. The (asides) started driving me crazy about two chapters in, and there are lots of them. So many that I started skipping over whole Kindle pages of text nested inside parentheses. Most added little to the story line. And finally after dragging myself though Potter’s –Theo Decker’s– miserable self loathing, what with his ability to take one minute of action and introspect it into thirty pages of mental gymnastics, I got near the end and Ms. Tartt apparently decided that parentheses weren’t enough.  At about the 98% mark on the Kindle, I ran into this artificial construct:

[As for Pippa: ………  three pages more ] new paragraph [You can have either… another page] pages of regular text [That little guy… a BUNCH more pages] and so on.

BTW, there are parentheses’d asides inside this ridiculous formatting choice. I say ridiculous, because I still can not figure out what the brackets are supposed to indicate.

I almost quit reading. At 98% finished, I almost quit reading.

If you knew me better, you’d realize that it takes a lot for me to leave a book unfinished. You’d realize that I love long complicated sentences. I love f’ed up, unlikable characters.  That I write long complicated sentences about unlikable characters, sentences which often get dinged, by readers and teacher, for being too long, too complicated, or too introspective.  In my books, I don’t use asides contained within parentheses. Yes, I frequently do so in my blog, but my blog posts are short, and the asides do not stop the flow of the story, which Ms. Tartt does frequently with these unnecessary aside. I don’t even like it when Stephen King does (asides), and he owns my heart.

So even though I, too, write these long, complicated sentences about unlikable characters, quite a few times I considered just tossing The Goldfinch. In 750 pages, the only interesting character is Boris, and in many places she has made him quite two-dimensional. All the other characters are predictable, except for maybe Welty. Sadly, Welty played a very small part in the book.

So what I’m asking myself is how this book won a Pulitzer. It’s a formatting nightmare. The plot is interesting, but the characters are stereotypical at best. The protagonist is detestable, often boring in his continual mental-flagellation. And with fifteen pages left to read, I don’t believe that he’s changed.  Ms. Tartt even pulled a deus ex machina when she has Boris sweep in and save the day, apparently so that Theo doesn’t have to change.  With fifteen pages to go, I still feel like Theo — Theo, whose name translates into god in Greek — is rationalizing his mistakes. A god he is not. Not even Dionysus. Dionysus isn’t that whiny. I think I would have preferred an ending where Boris didn’t show up to save the day.

I’m still considering whether I want to bother and read those last fifteen pages. I probably will, but only to see if anything gets any better. I’m not holding my breath.

This book had so much potential, from it being written by a brilliant author to the brilliant plot. But it appears that Ms. Tartt’s ego is bigger than her common sense or her editor’s persuasion ability.  I’m giving The Goldfinch 3-stars, because of my rating system, and because I’m trying to be generous. Of the nine thousand plus reviews on Amazon, nearly a nine hundred of them are one-star reviews, and over a thousand are two-star reviews. So I am being more generous than many.

As a reader, I doubt I will invest the time in another of Ms. Tartt’s novels. As a writer, I’m perplexed that something like this could win a Pulitzer. As a new author, I know that if I had written this novel, I wouldn’t have gotten an agent or publisher to look twice at it.

If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your opinion and why you hold that opinion.


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