I’m at a bit of a loss as to what my true feelings are on The Goldfinch… at first I had a hard time getting into it (and I thought, “how many pages are there in this brick of a novel?”), but then the majority of the rest flew by and I was captivated as to where it would go next, with only a few patches here and there where my interest wavered, only to then stall out within the last couple of sections and lose me once again. I remember feeling a similar way when I read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History a few years ago, too, in that at times I wasn’t sure how I was really feeling (though overall I enjoyed it), but what kept me going through both is Tartt’s beautiful weaving of words: I love her style, even if the stories sometimes get away from themselves
The Goldfinch tells the story of a young boy named Theo, who, along with his mother, is present at the site of a bombing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. While Theo survives this event, his mother does not, though while in his shocked state during the bombing, Theo manages to connect with a dying old man who gives him a ring, and also ends up taking a small painting by Carel Fabritius known as The Goldfinch. This moment of unanticipated tragedy, as well as Theo’s interaction with the old man end up shaping the many years of his life that follow as we see throughout the rest of the novel.
There are many different sections to this novel, progressing as Theo ages and finds himself in a new place in his life. Some of these sections were definitely more successful than others in my opinion, though I don’t want to go too much into detail for the sake of plot spoilers. But some of the threads we hit on are Theo struggling to find a place of belonging after losing his mother, the experience and dealing with (or more likely, not wanting to deal with) the many tragedies and losses he faces in the different living situations he finds himself in through childhood and adolescence, and also a major sub-plot concerning the world of antiquing, the art market, and art theft.
Coming in at 962 pages (in the paperback edition, at least), there is lot going on here, and in some ways the last 250 pages or so of the novel almost felt like a different novel than the rest to me, in particular the very last chapter/section where Theo’s tone seems to change and there is what feels like an unnecessary “explanation” at the end which didn’t strike me as fitting with the rest of the novel. Other than this last chunk of the novel, however, and despite going through so many different strands of story and life phases for Theo, there is a coherence in mood throughout it; regardless of the time or place or relationships, this novel has a sense of loneliness to it, and not just on the part of Theo but also in terms of a lot of the characters who play major parts in his life. They are all searching for some sort of connection or purpose or place of being in a world full of unpredictability. In some ways, I adore this aspect of the novel, as I think it’s a feeling that most of us can relate to in some ways, but on the other hand it can be very disheartening. At times it makes it hard to like Theo and his defeatism, yet I also completely understand and sympathize with his mindset and all that he’s been through. So really, I don’t know.
Ultimately, I think I did like The Goldfinch though it can be heavy at times, and at parts I really hated some of the characters. Yet I also felt for them and all they experienced in their lives. It’s a bit of an undertaking and I can understand why some people may not like it in the slightest, but I think the beautiful writing in the end made it worth it, regardless of how I may have felt about the last portion of the book.
CBR10 Bingo Square: Backlog