Book Review: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt


When someone recommends a book to me, the first thing I ask myself is “how well does this person know me?” If a near-stranger is talking about an absolute must-read, I might look it up and check the blurb but I’m more likely to forget the name of book as soon as the next conversation starts. On the other hand, if a close friend recommends a book, I can only assume they are doing so based on their knowledge of me, that they genuinely believe it’s something I’ll enjoy reading.

So when one of my closest friends handed me the 800 page mammoth that is The Goldfinch I wasn’t sure I’d ever get through it, but trusted her belief that it was something I would like.

The Goldfinch is an unexpected book, in many ways.

I’m sure many are put off by the idea of reading something so long, but my first point in favour of Tartt’s novel is that it never felt like it was 800 pages. Right from the start, the story carries you along; although it isn’t a quick read (it took my just over a month to get through), it never feels like a slog. There’s something about the way Theodore narrates that makes the most mundane days and activities feel vital to his story. There’s so much information about his life, his mother, Boris and their school days, and whilst this part of his life may feel like the less important portion of the book, every moment described makes you understand him more thoroughly. If The Goldfinch started with Theodore as an adult, it wouldn’t be half as engaging because his motivations, his failures, who he is at his core, couldn’t be explained in any brief way.

Whilst the deep emotional connection to the painting was not something I could relate to, the philosophy behind it was fascinating. Even before Theodore breaks it down, poignantly exploring what art is and why he connected to The Goldfinch painting, his darkest moments are connected viscerally to the painting. Every time he looks at it, finding a sense of comfort and stability, the way he talks about the artwork is something impossible to explain to somebody who hasn’t read the book. I’ve tried several times to express the sense of wonder, the manic draw of the painting, but it’s hard to get across Theodore’s connection, the way he expresses himself, even the way he functions day to day.

Tartt has created a character study wrapped up in a crime thriller, uniquely positioning the reader on the side of the thief (albeit a thief who never intended to be one) rather than that of the investigator. She explores what fate and chance mean, at the same time as examining the way children can fall through the cracks of the legal system. The smallest moments have the biggest consequences and by exploring the minutiae of Theodore’s life, Tartt shows simultaneously examines the turbulent way life can carry you along without control, taking you down paths you would never expect.