The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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For Theo, the space between a normal, 12-year-old existence and a tumultuous, highly irregular life is one minute. One explosion. One decision in the rubble of a museum. Every day after, as he is shunted from house to house and family to family and, much later, as he navigates adulthood, Theo will cling to the events and the physical reminders of that day.

A sprawling epic of Theo’s life, The Goldfinch is utterly captivating. Clocking in at 775 pages, it is no small endeavor to follow Theo from age twelve into his thirties and, yet, I never wanted to quit on this book. Quite the opposite, in fact, which is a testament to the incredible talent of Donna Tartt. Possibly my favorite characteristic of Tartt as an author is her tragically flawed main characters. If you’ve read The Secret History, you may recognize a bit of Henry in Theo. I certainly did, as the two both are extremely intelligent, they’re both fact collectors and obsessive observers, and they’re both situated just a bit outside social norms. Both of these characters are very, very far from living a saintly life, but either way I was always, always rooting for Theo to catch a break. Just once, let something work out for him.

This rarely happens, naturally, and ultimately Tartt makes her point. The last ten pages of this book could be highlighted from end to end and I am sure I’ll go back and reread them many times. In a different book, I might have found those pages to be a bit too existential or too direct, but in a lengthy book like The Goldfinch that’s both beautifully written and entertaining has more permission and has earned my attention and emotions enough to be able to dole out some parting thoughts on the state of the world.  

On my mind since closing The Goldfinch is this idea that “good” and “bad” are good in theory, but in practice become unreliable, idealistic, and fatally flawed. Good intentions don’t always glean good results, selfish intentions don’t always equate to bad actions, bad people don’t always meet bad ends, and, sometimes, good people lose their way. Boris, my favorite character in this whole book, underscores this point time and time again. Always following his own moral compass, it might be easiest to paint him as a bad influence or a bad person. However, his own moral compass always ultimately points him home and he is fundamentally self-actualized. The black and white of what’s good and bad or right and wrong to society is not something he concerns himself with. This ultimately also allows for the type of bond between him and Theo that is without borders and constraints and is really one of my favorite parts of the whole story. Boris represents the importance of grey area, of weighing each situation separately, and, ultimately, is a beacon of self-assuredness.

My other favorite character is Theo’s wise father-figure, Hobie. One of this character’s ubiquitous possessions is a carved set of Noah and his arc and this is the symbolism I love to see. Hobie takes on the traits of Noah all the way through The Goldfinch-- from rescuing a pair of traumatized children, Pippa and Theo, to always giving the two of them a safe harbor to weather the storms their lives bring, he is as much a savior as anyone can be. There are countless moments of symbolism like this throughout the book, but I will leave those for you to discover as you read or reread this story!

I’m going to restrain myself from writing more and sign off on this one here. Ultimately? A gorgeous, gorgeous book that I’ll be re-reading and that I’d recommend to anyone with a bit of patience and an appreciation for great literature.

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PUBLICATION DETAILS:  Little, Brown and Company; October 22, 2013; 775 pp; 9780316055437; Fiction -> Literary Fiction

This copy was gifted to me by Little Brown. All opinions are completely my own, as always! :)