A Review of “The Goldfinch”

The Goldfinch“The Goldfinch” is an ambitious book, dealing with questions like: what is art? What is love? Is fate more due to relentless irony, divine providence, or a mix of the two? Just simple questions like that. (Smile.)

I found myself comparing this novel to “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” because they both have boy narrators who lost a parent to terrorism. In the case of Extremely Loud, it’s the World Trade Center crashes. In this book, it’s the bombing of an art museum. I like “The Goldfinch” better because the narrator isn’t as unreasonably anxious. He’s anxious yes, but in a calmer, more reasoned way, if that’s possible. And the timeline is more straightforward, which makes it easier to follow.

The story follows the life of Theodore Decker from age thirteen until his late twenties, exploring his longing for his dead mother, his relationship with his dead-beat father, adjustments (or lack thereof) to his new living conditions, and his attachment to a famous painting.

I liked how the author shows feelings of emotional displacement through descriptions of the characters’ surroundings – furnishings, food – and not only through human interactions. She incorporates a huge amount of detail, which makes the story real. Unless one is a writer, it’s hard to appreciate how difficult this is to do well. I also enjoyed the author’s fresh metaphors. There’s a reason “The Goldfinch” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year.

Toward the end, I started getting impatient with Theo’s inarticulateness and inability to function. And when he does function, it’s like he’s outside of himself. He’s so inactive, it’s like he’s the opposite of a protagonist. He just stands there saying, “Ummm… ahh…” and things happen to him.  Theo’s Russian friend Boris takes over as protagonist at this point, and I ended up with a fondness for him despite his bad influence on Theo. I learned more about drinking and drugs than I ever wanted to know. Also, the author has the Russian soul down.

Some readers complain that the ending paragraphs aren’t worth all the angst in the previous parts of the book, but I don’t agree. The ending starts several chapters before the last chapter. I was listening to it on CD, so I’m not entirely sure of the organization of the book, but to me, the summation starts with Theo’s “coming clean” discussion with his mentor Hobie (I love Hobie!) and continues through the remainder of the novel. I thought it was cohesive and worth the wait. In fact, it was so worth the wait that I incurred my first library fine in recent memory so that I could complete the story. So beware: “The Goldfinch” is a bad influence – it could encourage you to incur library fines without remorse for the rest of your days.

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