Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Goodreads links)

Ah, what can I say? This is one of those stories that gets under your skin. Love it or hate it, if you make it to the end, you’re going to remember it. So, on the face of things, this is a coming of age story, but it’s also an art heist, a romance, a tragedy and a philosophical commentary on the meaning of life (frequently diverging into whether life, with all its heartache is worth living at all, and whether doing the right things and being a good person actually mean anything, too).

You might have noticed this won a Pulitzer Prize. I noticed this, too. Was it a factor in finally picking this up and reading it? No. Do I understand why it won now that I’ve read it? Yes. It’s a masterpiece--hard, emotionally taxing, uplifting and depressing, all of these things woven in at once. The characters are real (they come alive in the pages), and the significance of the painting, The Goldfinch, while elusive as the pages fly by, is never completely abandoned. The symbolism in this story is heavy and wrought with meaning, but I think every reader will see and hear something different.

That’s why I think book clubs tend to choose this book so much. My friend is one of the folks who hates this book; I’m one of the ones who love it. I can totally get why she does. This book spans over a decade of time and it gets there at a snail’s pace, though I read late into the night for a week (thank goodness for vacation, or I’d have been useless at work). Yet, I couldn’t put it down. It’s odd, a page turner that I could totally see myself working my way through for a month or more. I tried to calculate how long it took me to read it, I gave up. I’m not sure some of the time wasn’t spent half-dozing at 4:30 in the morning, just trying to get to the end of a chapter, to find out what kind of crazy Theo’s friend Boris would deliver next. Hours lost to this book, but I don’t regret it.

I couldn’t read anything else while reading this, either. I often read two or three at a time, just shuffling between them whenever the whim takes me, but not with this one. I think I had to keep going because the threads, as they are woven into the tapestry of this book, are thin and easy to miss. This book requires focus, an absence of distraction. It is, by no means light reading. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen sentences and structure quite as complex and mindboggling. One sentence lasted over a page. Just one. The author favors a choppy style, tossing images and impressions out like handfuls of bread to a pigeon, but it works. It flows. The world and the people in it bloom in the mind from these snippets. At times grammar is abandoned completely, but on purpose, definitely on purpose. It’s one of the things I found so interesting about this book, but I think it might drive some folks crazy trying to wade through the organized madness.

I loved this book. It’s a tough read and a page turner all at once. I think it’s worth giving a try for folks who like an immersive reading experience, but folks who want that clean happily ever after, who like a book that gets to the point in short order, may find this one daunting. This truly is one of those love it or hate it books. I think it demands to be discussed, so really, the book clubs have it right.

I borrowed this book from a local library so that I could read it for a book club I just joined.

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