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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The GOldfinch

The GoldFinch by Donna Tart
Published: 2013
Format: Audio narrated by David Pittu (32 hours & 9 minutes)
Award: Pulitzer prize for fiction, 2014
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 3.5 stars
Find it/Buy it here: The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

The Goldfinch is a monster of a book at close to 800 pages. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2014 and received rave reviews from many of my friends. So, it was probably about time that I finally read it. The story begins with 13 year-old Theodore Decker, a tragedy and a small painting by Fabritius. The book took 11 years to write and is an ambitious coming-of-age tale that delves into the world of art and antiques and spans 14 years in the life of its protagonist. For those who aren’t familiar with the plot, I’ll refrain from saying too much more because part of the “fun” of this book is the journey and uncovering the twists and turns for yourself.

I feel a little conflicted in my rating. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the first 75% of the book. I enjoyed the connection that Theo had with the painting and how it became connected to his feelings about his mother. I felt that Tartt really captured the experience of loss and trauma. In contrast, the last 25% was like a mafia soap opera gone wrong. I came close to bumping down my rating because the ending was pretty ridiculous (very melodramatic, over-the-top, etc.) and far from what made me enjoy the earlier parts. I could have lived with the silly melodrama, but then the very last chapter is essentially a moralizing, overwrought message about the meaning of the story. I really hate when authors think their readers are too stupid to be able to understand the message of their books without explicitly laying it out for them. Some readers may like this strategy to wrap up a long book, but I find it condescending and approached it with a lot of eye rolling.

Overall, I found it to be entertaining with some significant flaws. Many of the plot twists and turns were very far-fetched (for me) and the characterization was fairly weak, with the exception of the protagonist and a few others. For example, while Theo was well drawn out and complex, many of the other characters seemed almost cartoonish, with little depth or complexity. I think this book will make a great, big budget Hollywood movie. In fact, that is what the reading experience made me think of it as being like a movie fairly frequently.

Finally, the writing was also a mixed bag for me. There were some sentences that were brilliant and many passages that I highlighted. Other passages that were over-written, as if she was trying too hard to write great literary fiction.

All in all, it was an engaging read that kept me hooked once I agreed to suspend my need for a realistic plot. Just don’t expect too much, and you’ll probably enjoy it. Want to read a scathing review of the book? Try the New Yorker article by James Wood, but only if you’ve already read it, since he’s not shy about giving away lots of details about the plot.

Note about the narration: I listened to this book as an audible narrated by Davit Pittu. He was wonderful, which is a good thing given that the narration is over 32 hours long. I tried to listen to most of it at regular speed but eventually had to speed it up to 1.25x which was perfect (1.5x would have been too fast for me to find enjoyable). He had very different voices for the various characters and most of them were very well done. There were two British characters (minor parts) that he struggled with, but for the most part he did an incredible job with all the characters.

Learn more about the real Goldfinch painting here.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great review! I agree completely with every point you made about the plotting. I did think the writing itself, when analyzed on a sentence by sentence basis, was excellent. But the plot was a big problem, especially the last quarter and the horrific preachy diatribe at the end.

    Like

    March 24, 2015
    • Thanks! I just checked out your review on Shelfari. Turns out we had very similar thoughts about it although I wish I had thought of the Sopranos line :). I thought some sentences were beautifully crafted and wonderful and i’d probably agree that in all, it was well written. Although, I did at times feel like she was trying too hard to be clever in the construction of each sentence resulting in some overwritten sentences.

      Oh but the preachy ending. I could have tolerated the other plot issues but I hate being preached to.

      Like

      March 24, 2015
      • Ok, now I just went back to read my own review, and I have to say it is almost eerie how many of the same descriptors we used and the same critiques we had. I actually was laughing by the end. I guess on this title we were completely on the same page. Have you read The Secret History?

        Like

        March 24, 2015
      • yes, that was too funny b/c I felt like I was reading my review. We do often have similar ratings but that was funny. I really liked the Secret History.

        Like

        March 24, 2015
  2. Nicole D #

    I listened at double speed! 🙂 I have to go back and read my own review but I think we were basically aligned.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 24, 2015
    • Nicole D #

      I guess I liked the narrator a lot as well!

      Like

      March 24, 2015
    • I tried to listen at double speed but couldn’t do it. Sounded too chipmunkish for me. I’ll have to check out your review. I feel bad b/c my review here seems very critical but I did like the first 75% quite a bit

      Like

      March 24, 2015

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