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On Our Bookshelves – The Goldfinch – A Review

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NOVEL: The Goldfinch

AUTHOR: Donna Tartt

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2013

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Everyone was reading this one about five years ago; late to the party, I finally read it on a long flight from Milan to New York. (I tend to tackle long books on long flights—it’s all that uninterrupted sitting time.)

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The good: Donna Tartt sure can tell a story–a terrorist attack at a museum, a traumatized child, a painting that goes missing—you’ll want to find out what happens, and you’ll keep turning those pages. The Goldfinch provides some fascinating glimpses into different subcultures of New York City, and it’s entertaining to vicariously visit the wealthy uptown crowd and the bohemian antique furniture shop in the Village. It’s also full of ideas, ruminations on love, depression, art, obsession, friendship, loyalty, alienation, morality, beauty. The scenes in the exurbs of Las Vegas, with two unsupervised teen-aged boys running wild, are very well done, as is their flip side, the desperation of the cross-country bus trip, with no money, and no sure place to run to.

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The bad: I’ve got nothing against long books, but this one could have used some more editing—at 771 pages, it’s a pretty serious commitment. (And Donna Tartt, fine writer though she is, is not Leo Tolstoy or George Elliot.) I don’t think this one is a classic; it probably won’t be being read in a hundred years. (Note to self: get Christopher Fowler to weigh in.) The main character and narrator, Theo Decker, is quite sympathetic as a teenager making poor decisions, but considerably less so as a dishonest, unstable, and drug-addled young man; I found myself losing all patience with him about two thirds of the way in. And although I enjoyed the other characters, they are for the most part rather predictable types: the perfect mother, beautiful and artistic and victimized; the buttoned-down society matron, and her bright and socially awkward son (and her picture-perfect blond, shallow daughter); the kind gay avuncular artisan; the cheerful and sympathetic Latino doorman; an assortment of Russian mobsters; the trashy denizens of Las Vegas, including Theo’s father’s tramp of a girlfriend; and so forth.

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The complicated: it’s hard to resist the character of Boris, much more of a catalyst, and much more interesting than the passive and damaged Theo, but he’s an action figure who belongs in some kind of adventure story…it’s as if Keyser Söze somehow wandered into a romantic comedy. That being said, he drives the plot, and the book is considerably more interesting when he’s part of the story.

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I enjoyed reading The Goldfinch, despite its flaws—it defies categorization, being an unusual combination of literary fiction and thriller. It doesn’t entirely work, but it has its charms, its ambition, and some passages of truly astonishing loveliness.

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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Lead-In Image (“Goldfinch on leafy branch”) Courtesy of Lynn Bulgrin / Shutterstock.com

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