Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch
by Donna Tartt
2014 Pulitzer Prize
5 stars - yes, to all the superlatives being bantered about
ALR Green - a nice little Maltese that pops in and out of the story

I approached this book with extreme caution. It's a daunting 771 pages. Plus, as it won the Pulitzer, I feared it would be yet another clunky, overwrought drama. 

Nothing of the sort. 

I was captivated from the beginning. The Goldfinch is narrated by Theo Decker. At the age of thirteen, he survives an incident in which his mother is killed. His life is never the same. The picture we see of Theo prior to the incident is of a fairly normal, accomplished kid. He lives with his divorced mother in New York City. All is fine.

Post incident, his life veers along a course that one could never have predicted. The first hurdle is where he will live. After a brief stay with the family of one of his classmates, he is whisked away by his heretofore absent father. To a life and location completely unfamiliar. 

Thus the tail unfolds. The life of Theo Decker, from 13 years of age to somewhere in his late twenties. Never plodding or overly sentimental. Never implausible. Many opportunities along the way for the reader to draw parallels between Theo's life and their own. To wonder, "what if?"

Hard to say more without spoiling the story. Are there twists and turns? Yes, but it isn't as if this is some great mystery. The surprises are those that we all have in life. Incidents both great and small that shape our destinies. 

One beautiful subtlety of Ms. Tartt's writing is the way the texture changes as Theo matures. I didn't really notice it at first. As a teenager, his narration is presented in short chapters and is mostly about what happened to him. The older Theo tells his story in longer chapters with more contemplation about how things make him feel and what it all means. Cool, right?

For me, the book was mainly about how one moment in our lives can change and shape our story in ways totally unexpected. I'm not talking about the fork in the road, but an event that takes us off the road completely and plops us down in someplace entirely new. A moment that forever puts a "before" and "after" into all subsequent experiences. For me, that event would be when our family relocated from New Jersey to Massachusetts. It changed everything. Everything. 

If I have one nit (and it's a small one), it's the last few dozen pages where Ms. Tartt wanders down the path of dense philosophical musings on life. That's OK. After over 700 pages of compelling narrative, she gets a pass on the last few pages. 


  1. You know I enjoy books that are simply about life. I've heard of this, and knew it won the Pulitzer, but never looked into it simply because, as you noted, so many Pulitzer Prize winning books are clunky and unappealing, yet "technically wonderful" in some mysterious way. I'll have to look for this.

  2. This sounds like my kind of book. I too love books about life. Off to check out ABE books.

  3. I want to read this one, but haven't picked it up yet. Been too busy reading about zombies and vampires I guess!