A bomb goes off in a museum. A boy, Theo, loses his mother. In his confusion, he steals a prized portrait, setting off his descent into a world of art, thievery, drugs, and murder.
Thus begins Donna Tartt’s acclaimed novel, THE GOLDFINCH. When first released, this novel elicited strong reactions, both positive and negative. Some proclaimed it the best book of the year, while others decried it, going so far as to compare it to a children’s book. So which is it? Are its themes and story enough to sustain the hefty 700+ page novel to its conclusion?
Either way, it’s impossible to fault Tartt for being unambitious. Her narrative stretches across time and country, detailing Theo’s development from boy to man and visiting locales as diverse as Las Vegas and Amsterdam. Still, at times it feels like Tartt could have benefitted from dreaming a little less big. Some parts of the book drone on, halting all narrative momentum, and by the end it felt like a hundred pages could easily have been edited out without changing the basic story.
Theo narrates the story. Here the book shines, allowing the woman author a chance to give an incredible depiction of a boy suffering from PTSD. Theo is not always the most likeable character, but for readers who can get past that, Theo is a memorable narrator. Some other characters are one dimensional, but from Theo’s point of view, this is understandable and forgivable. The story itself may take its time getting to the point, but the well developed characters gives fans the motivation to push through.
Overall, THE GOLDFINCH is far from the best book of 2013, but it is also far from the drivel others have summed it up as. It suffers from a variety of flaws, but despite these, for most readers this a fun, literary read that goes by surprisingly quickly despite its length.