The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The_goldfinch_by_donna_tartA great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.

What it’s about: Thirteen-year-old Theo survives a terrorist bombing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which kills his mother, and takes from the museum a priceless painting.

Why I liked it: All the things Donna Tartt does well (based on her very short body of work–three novels in total), she does well in The Goldfinch. She is terrific at conveying details that make people and places seem vivid and real. The scene where Theo leaves the suddenly transformed museum after the explosion was at the same time dreamlike and yet absolutely realistic, a breath-stopping piece of writing. Her knack for details bring her characters to life without making them mundane. And she has a peculiar gift for writing about that disconnected state of mind that occurs when you’re inebriated or high or traumatized. In The Goldfinch, Theo relies on pills, moving through his own life in a detached, observant mode so that he’s like nothing but a head bobbing above everything he sees, and thus able to describe it all so precisely.

Caveat: I generally like long books, but this one seemed very long. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and by three-quarters of the way through, I was exhausted. Although I can’t point to anything specifically that is bloat, I couldn’t help but ask myself whether this book really needed to be this long, or if perhaps it was somewhat blown up by its self-importance.

Who might like this: I’ve seen this book compared to Dickens. I’m not a fan of Dickens, but if you are, or of detailed Victorian novels in general, you may appreciate this book.

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