Ben Oliver

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The Goldfinch

A huge, wordy, not-quite-masterpiece.
09 August 2015

A boy, Theo, walks into an art gallery in New York with his mother to escape the rain. A bomb goes off and she is killed, leaving him to fend for himself in the world. In the chaos he takes a painting, The Goldfinch, and keeps it for himself.

This is a breathtaking novel in its scope and ambition. 700+ pages of heartbreak, loss, hope, fear and anger.

The Golfinch is often successful in its attempt to makes sense of the world. Tartt provides unique insight into the purpose of art and the meaning behind its creation. She also makes the life-spanning scope of the structure work in her favour, focusing on a few important moments in detail rather than trying to include everything, much like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.

However, the book is simply far too wordy and far too long. Where Boyhood justifies its length, The Goldfinch seems to be intent on dragging things out.

The last 150 pages in particular are ponderous and lacking in purpose. Just as things are wrapping up beautifully, Tartt takes Theo on an immense diatribe about life, the universe and everything that almost makes one want to put down the book, even so close to the end.

It is a shame because this huge essay reads merely like a summation of events in the book, and the meaning they may hold; completely unnecessary since Tartt allows the reader to come to similar conclusions through good storytelling earlier in the novel.

There’s also a tone throughout that reads a little like a children’s novel, or as many have pointed out, weaker Dickens in his paid-by-the-word style. Crucial characters appear to be neglected and two-dimensional while still having tomes written about them. It’s tiresome and can make long passages predictable.

Overall The Goldfinch is a good-read with some valuable perspective, but it’s not quite the life-altering masterpiece Tartt seems so desperate to try and make it into.