Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Goldfinch: One Helluva Yarn

Chances are, if you haven't already read Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, the "it" book of 2013, you have a pretty good idea whether or not you still will. I won't try to talk you into it if you haven't — you probably have a good reason (unappealing subject, too damn long, you're worried it's been overhyped) — but I will tell you this: It's a helluva yarn. You could do much worse than spending a week or so immersed in Ms. Tartt's 771 pages.

It's a perfect winter read, one you can wrap yourself into and forget about the snow-covered arctic tundra outside. It's a huge novel with complex themes and its own philosophy ("Life is catastrophe," i.e.), but first and foremost, it's just an absolutely riveting story. Even if you don't think too deeply, even if you just want to be entertained, you certainly will be.

Theo Decker is our protagonist, who we meet in the opening pages in a hotel room in Amsterdam, having befallen some as yet unknown calamity. Quickly, we back up to Theo as a 13-year-old New Yorker headed to a disciplinary meeting at his school with his mother. With an hour to kill, they stop into a museum to see a new exhibit. You know what happens next: An explosion at the museum kills his mother (and several others), though he's hurt, he survives. But before he escapes the museum, at the behest of a dying man, Theo takes a famous painting, The Goldfinch (which, of course, is a real thing).

The novel, then, continues on into four distinct periods of Theo's life — New York, Las Vegas, New York II, and Amsterdam. People flit in and out of his life, as he flits in and out of theirs. But the one constant is the painting — and how it reminds him of his mother, and who he is. That, however, belies the intrigue in this story, and twists and turns the story takes — a drug-fueled cross-country busride, a hundreds-thousands-dollar antique furniture scam, a drug-addled best friend named Boris who is loyal but dangerous, a beautiful red-haired girl named Pippa, and a family of New York bluebloods who have their own massive troubles. I'm telling you —it's a crazy ride. 

Some readers have complained that the novel meanders a bit — which, necessarily in a nearly 800-page novel, may be true — but when you're along for this ride, you can't think about what might be "superfluous" and what's not. Just go with it! Some readers have also complained that the second New York section — starting at about the halfway point of the novel — is "slower" than the rest. And that's true (the Vegas section, you'll discover, is a frenetic Irvine Welsh-esque booze-and-drug coming-of-age bonanza, and the Amsterdam section that concludes the novel is like something out of a Scorsese film), but it was also my favorite part. It so atmospheric, and so much fun to watch Theo make the decisions (both good and bad) that will lead everything that happens next.

So, like many readers before me, I loved this book. If you're on the fence, give it a go — start it on a cold winter Friday night, and you might be finished before work on Monday. You may even forget to shower/eat/socialize/feed your pet. It's pretty engrossing. And well worth the hype.


  1. My #1 book of 20013 out of over 150:) Glad u loved it as well.

  2. Already sold, on my wish list... Now just have to find the right time to dive in without having to put it down too quickly!

  3. Sounds like a perfect winter read as you say. I'm game! thx for the review

  4. I loved it too. Well worth the decade+ wait.

  5. Talked my book club into reading this one (although some of them read so little that we had to split it into two months) but I'm a little concerned now that some of them are really not going to like it. I may be in the minority on this one!