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925 of 1,018 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning success, one of the most striking novels I have read in years
I passed the Metropolitan Museum of Art the other day and was struck with a powerful and initially inexplicable melancholy. I had been affected by the experience of reading The Goldfinch, in the opening chapters of which a great tragedy happens there. The book is compelling and moving. Tartt is a master of foreshadowing, letting us know just enough of what is to come that...
Published 6 months ago by Neurasthenic

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960 of 1,040 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Several GREAT novellas in one very long book!
I won't go into the plot since everyone will know it. My concern whenever I'm given or purchase a very long book is, "Will it keep me engaged?" and is it worth the weeks it will take me to finish it?"

The answer with THE GOLDFINCH is "Yes!" and "Sorta!"

To me, the book is divided into sections or novellas--the explosion, living with the wealthy...
Published 5 months ago by Derek Jager


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960 of 1,040 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Several GREAT novellas in one very long book!, October 22, 2013
This review is from: The Goldfinch (Hardcover)
I won't go into the plot since everyone will know it. My concern whenever I'm given or purchase a very long book is, "Will it keep me engaged?" and is it worth the weeks it will take me to finish it?"

The answer with THE GOLDFINCH is "Yes!" and "Sorta!"

To me, the book is divided into sections or novellas--the explosion, living with the wealthy family, moving to Vegas, etc.

The brilliant opening section immediately kept me engaged--I think the explosion and Theo's experience and recovery is some of the best writing I've read in years.

The family he moves in with may remind you of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS or Salinger's Glass family. They are funny, a bit tragic and sort of odd. The father especially--something about his behavior seemed a bit "off" as did his wild dialogue; it didn't seem at all "real" in a novel that's very grounded in reality. (It's revealed later why he behaves this way.)

The next--and for me, strongest novella--takes place in Las Vegas where we "live" with Theo's father and girlfriend. The writing is vivid, the characters and plot really move along and it's all terrific.

And then, for me, THE GOLD FINCH seems to stall a bit and slightly loses its way. This painting that Theo carries with him seems to be forgotten about and then every 100 pages or so is mentioned again (not that we care.)

There's a novella about dealing in art (collection and deception) and our hero takes a downward turn, but I found myself losing interest and by page 600 was growing impatient for it to end...or for the plot to kick in again as it did in the first few sections.

The great thing about this book is that you can set it aside for a few days and pick it up again and not be "lost"--the writing and characters are that strong. The "plot" on the other hand seems to grow thinner and less important as you head down the last 200 plus pages as "big issues" are thoughtfully woven in.

I'm sure this will receive many 4 and 5 star ratings, but I'm giving it a very good solid 3 since, unfortunately, it seemed to run out of gas toward the end. But those first 600 pages -- great, great stuff!
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925 of 1,018 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning success, one of the most striking novels I have read in years, October 7, 2013
I passed the Metropolitan Museum of Art the other day and was struck with a powerful and initially inexplicable melancholy. I had been affected by the experience of reading The Goldfinch, in the opening chapters of which a great tragedy happens there. The book is compelling and moving. Tartt is a master of foreshadowing, letting us know just enough of what is to come that we feel helpless to put down the book. I found myself staying up late for several nights, turning page after page to connect the dots. This book is every bit the equal of The Secret History in this regard. And it exceeds that earlier book in its great emotional depth. The opening section, in New York City, is terribly sad and in the hands of a lesser author this material would be difficult to get past. However, Tartt has signaled us well enough about the future of our protagonist, Theodore Dekker, that we stick with him. And from the second section of the book, while we have no shortage of continuing misery, it is tempered by hope or humor.

This is not to say that the book is necessarily realistic; it is structurally a Bildungsroman, and it constantly evokes earlier books rather than real life. In the opening section, when Theo is still living in New York City, I particularly detected The Catcher in the Rye. When he moves in with the family of a wealthy school friend, his hope of being adopted by them evokes elements of Great Expectations, a book that is recalled again when he returns to them over a decade later to find the matron of the family shut away like Miss Havisham (though for very different reasons). He is taken away to Las Vegas and falls in with a bad crowd, evoking Oliver Twist. As in that book, the reader understands that some of this crowd provide necessary support for the young man. Theo returns to New York and, years later, finds himself exploring dark places with Boris, his criminally inclined Las Vegas friend, following the trail of a missing painting. This reminded me of the best work of Stephen Dobyns. Some parts of the book even recall The Maltese Falcon, though the book treats its namesake artwork as more than merely a MacGuffin. Others will find different precedents, I'm sure. This book is long and rich.

Tartt took over a decade to write The Goldfinch, and polished its language over that time. In Las Vegas, for example, Theo describes his new quarters as "the kind of room where a call girl or stewardess would be murdered on television." Tartt has so much fun with the speaking cadence of drunk Russians (or Ukranians), I have to imagine she spends a fair amount of time with Slavs. Dialect humor is rare nowadays, but here it is done with such love that it's inoffensive and often quite funny.

I've not spent time in the failed housing developments at the extremes of Las Vegas, nor with Ukrainian drug dealers, but Tartt portrays these worlds so vividly I don't doubt her depictions of them at all. The quality of the plotting, the characterizations, and the dialog in this book are consistently excellent. As Stephen King wrote of The Goldfinch in the New York Times Book Review, "You keep waiting for the wheels to fall off, but . . . they never do."

What's not so perfect? Though Tartt captures the subtleties of several different kinds of relationships between men, much better than I would have thought possible for a female author, the relationships between Theo Dekker and women never quite ring true. One may give the excuse that Theo is so damaged by the loss of his mother that he is never again capable of normal relationships with the opposite sex, but I think this explanation takes one only so far.

The passages in which Theo crams for university entrance exams seem hard to believe and, oddly for a tome like this, rushed.

Finally, and this is not Tartt's fault, I'm sure, the paper in the hardcover edition is too thin. I suspect the publisher winced at receiving an 800 page manuscript and decided to print on thin paper in the hope of creating a less intimidating volume on bookstore shelves. When reading page 403, you have to ignore the backwards shadow of the words on page 404, overleaf.

Tartt tackles broad themes in this book: to what degree can we control our fate? Or does life unspool in response only to forces beyond our control, including randomness? These are common enough topics for novelists, and I found myself dwelling particularly on some of the book's secondary themes, as they are less commonly discussed. Can humans create objects that have souls, and what obligation do we have to our creations, and is there any meaningful way in which artifacts make life worth living? What is the significance of authenticity, and can a copy ever be as significant as the original? Can we be moved sometimes by the absence of something as much as we would have been by its presence? In a profile of Tartt on October 21, the New York Times said that this book raises such questions as "whether it is possible to be good, what part love plays in our behavior and what in life is true and lasting."

It's a wonderful book, worth every penny and every hour needed to read it.
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310 of 352 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A for effort, November 17, 2013
This review is from: The Goldfinch (Hardcover)
Let me start by saying Secret History is one of my favorite books. Having heard of this as a literary triumph better than History, I was really looking forward to reading it.

While a certain amount of hype has been bought and paid for, the rapturous reviews of this book leave me wondering how intellectually bankrupt this country must be to find this work brilliant.
It is brilliant only if you think Gone Girl was brilliant. Which is to say it is uneven, speech-y instead of profound, and badly in need of one of the editors of yore.

What I did like: the plot is creative, the work is ambitious, and the first 1/3 is engrossing and addictive.

What I didn't like: there are plot twists that are beyond absurd, there is far too much self-congratulatory philosophizing stuck in at the end in incredibly forced exposition. The end reads like student work. The characters are unlike able, and there are pages, pages and pages of drug addiction descriptions that begin to read like pornography. Characters are thinly drawn, and plot lines are left more unresolved than resolved (not for ambiguity's sake, because it seems she just forgot about them).

The brilliance of the Secret History was that Tartt was writing from her own world. Every detail, no matter how unlikely, rang true. History is engrossing at every turn. Goldfinch is so off from reality that it at points becomes unreadable and even laughable. Her notions of adoption, investigation, terrorism, male mindset, and the mental and intellectual capabilities of children, are naively imagined and poorly researched, as are all of the relationships between characters. Goldfinch reads as intellectual writerly masturbation. It reads, in all honesty, as childish and undergraduate, while History, her undergraduate novel, reads as stunningly mature.

It bothers me as a reader when middle brow novels are held up as great, brilliant, and intellectual. This is an ambitious book and an interesting book, but it is not a great book. It's an elevated pot boiler, and it's at points unnecessarily hard to read. If this is the height of
American letters, we should be very worried.
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578 of 671 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Expectations for our times, September 24, 2013
Running to almost 800 pages, The Goldfinch is going to require a substantial investment of your time, but I think anyone would be prepared to give Donna Tartt's new novel that much. What you might not realise until it is too late however is the amount of personal investment a book like this demands. By the time you get to the even half-way through the extraordinary 14 year journey that has taken Theo Decker to Amsterdam, the dawning realisation that this has to eventually come to an end suddenly hits you. Drawing out the inevitable isn't possible either as there's not a moment of The Goldfinch that doesn't have you completely in its thrall, reluctant to put it down and feeling bereft at its conclusion.

The Goldfinch is a masterpiece in the classic style of the Bildungsroman. The recounting of Theo Decker's unfolding awareness of the world, its complications, its criminality and injustice, the lack of stability in his life, his sense of being isolated and his ability to love are all affected by one significant event of terrorism in the modern world that skews his view of reality and effectively leaves him an orphan. What follows is a remarkably detailed account that covers every aspect of Theo's life in detail and the storytelling is never anything less than wonderful. It's almost Dickensian in scope and treatment, the book drawing obvious parallels with Great Expectations and even making references and nods to Oliver Twist, but in its own way it is also a thoroughly modern work. It's more than just a character or psychological study, it's more than just a series of escalating incidents that eventually reach crime thriller proportions, but it takes in a whole range of relevant cultural, moral, social and familial circumstances and tries to consider how one can make sense of it all.

What ties it all together and what is the one constant in Theo's turbulent life is the Dutch Master painting of The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius (1622-1654), which accidentally and completely illegally comes into his possession. The painting is many things to Theo, something that he can't shake off or deny, but rather feels a deep affinity for and a responsibility towards it. It's a reminder of the significant moment when the world lost all sense, but it's also a lifeline that he clings to throughout his difficult and troubled adolescence, serving as a connecting element that provides a sense of continuity, connecting, linking elements that would otherwise seem random twists of fate and chance. This is however so much more than just a clever literary touch, but a vital and meaningful element that gives the book distinction and a sensibility beyond the pure narrative storytelling delights of Donna Tartt's brilliant writing.

The Goldfinch is itself a masterful work, one that is quite capable of fulfilling the same function as Carel Fabritius's painting, capable of holding a great deal of meaning and affection for the individual reader in how it proposes a way of viewing and making sense of the questions of fate and adversity that life throws at us. I don't think there's anything new here that Dickens didn't already cover so comprehensively in Great Expectations, but the world is a much more complicated place now and it needs someone like Donna Tartt to help try bring some kind of order and meaning to it.
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112 of 128 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some great scenes and lines that don't add up, December 2, 2013
This review is from: The Goldfinch (Hardcover)
It's been a long time since I found a book so alternately beautiful and maddening. There are excellent scenes and lines in this novel, and I'm glad I read it, but it doesn't hold together well. In the end it reminded me of the antique shop the character Hobie runs in the book: many amazing, high-quality things half-hidden beneath mounds of less interesting stuff.

Tartt deserves credit for daring greatly in this book. It's hard to center a long novel on a fairly unlikeable character, and even harder when that character is also the narrator. In Theo Decker I felt she was trying to get at the ways a severe psychic injury plays out over a lifetime, and for the first half of the book I was fascinated by Theo even when I didn't like him. And Tartt does lay the groundwork carefully for his later misdeeds, particularly in Theo's unwanted resemblance to his father. But once Theo becomes an adult (in years if not in maturity), he makes so many stupid decisions, and is so apathetic about his life generally, that it got increasingly difficult for me to care what happened to him. It's also hard to reconcile how Theo can act as he does while having the insights he articulates. I understand that this is part of what Tartt is trying to explore (why people don't do what they know, at some level, they should do), but I don't think it quite comes off here. Theo's character felt too inconsistent to sustain the whole novel.

The high points of the novel for me were Theo's life immediately after the explosion that kills his mother, when he is taken in by the wealthy family of a school friend, and his relationship with Hobie, the furniture dealer who takes him on as a kind of apprentice. As in "The Secret History," Tartt excels in showing the dark underside of wealth and privilege, and it wasn't a surprise when members of the wealthy family turn up later in Theo's life and play some decisive roles. As for Hobie, I wanted to read a whole novel about him, because the portions that describe his sense for furniture and his love for the past were some of the strongest in the book. Boris, the Russian-born friend Theo makes during his sojourn in Las Vegas with his gambler father, is also a vivid character, and I appreciated that Tartt took his character in directions I didn't expect.

It's the ending (and by "ending" I mean about the last 200 pages) that was the real problem for me. The violence and cross-continents chase scenes just didn't ring true. This part of the book, in which more "happens" in plot terms, was actually the hardest to get through. Tartt excels at rendering the inner lives of characters, but the action scenes fall flat.

I hate giving this novel a mediocre rating, because I appreciate the ambition it embodies and the parts of it in which Tartt's prose really sings. She's engaging some important questions about the power of art in this book, and the scenes that feature Theo thinking through his relationship with the purloined painting were moving and thought-provoking. The novel as a whole just doesn't measure up to its best components, sadly.
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars BIG disappointment, December 28, 2013
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This review is from: The Goldfinch (Kindle Edition)
I kept reading this book, wondering when I'd find whatever everyone else liked about it, but never did. Tedious descriptions of events that drag on page after page (including a direct reference to Dickens, in case the reader didn't get what was being said). Two dimensional characters and relationships that felt forced. And an ending that I suppose should have felt bleak but just felt like a relief to leave a world where the characters were uninteresting and a story that took about 200 pages more than it needed. I don't know who Ms. Tartt's editor is, but they should be fired!
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128 of 154 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Editor Wanted, December 26, 2013
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This review is from: The Goldfinch (Kindle Edition)
Ms. Tartt is no doubt a gifted writer. Where is her editor?! It's pretty shameful. So after a writer as a few bestsellers to her name, she's untouchable to editor's suggestions? There are countless instances in this book where the writer says something absolutely brilliant, but then proceeds to tell you what she just said in the most banal prose you've ever heard. It's unbelievable. How could an editor not see that and say, "You've got a masterful book here, just lose the tiresome reiterations." What a missed opportunity this book is.
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84 of 101 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Could Have Been Good, At HALF THE LENGTH, January 10, 2014
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This review is from: The Goldfinch (Hardcover)
Oh my,talk about loquacious, this book is one that could have been really,really good but every,little,wee,tiny,thing was just written to death. I found myself saying "oh for God's sake get ON with it" you are numbing my brain! But alas,Ms.Tartt never did "get on with it." The protagonist's seminal "event" an explosion in a museum,went on, I kid you not, for over 150 pages of single spaced fairly small type I finally gave up,decided the "day" was never going to end and skipped ahead to the next "event" found it to be equally done to death and skipped ahead again and heaven help us, ditto... droning on and on and on.

Finally, in utter frustration I decided to just skip the rest of the book.

Why this novel got so much praise I'm afraid I just can't fathom. Ms.Tartt does have talent and in places in the book I was "caught up" by her writing but her wordy-ness was totally off putting and frankly, made what could have been a decent book, a total drone of a thing that one felt one needed to put Wellies on to slug through.
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87 of 105 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not my thing, December 5, 2013
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This review is from: The Goldfinch (Hardcover)
I'm one of the obvious minority who hated this book. I really thought I would love it, but I found the writing intolerable, and the plot incredibly depressing without any creativity or beauty to make up for it (think "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle", which I loved). I suffered through the whole thing, but I really wish I hadn't. I'd feel better if it were half as long so I hadn't wasted so much time on it. The Vegas portion especially could have been about two pages long ("We got wasted. We laughed. We passed out. We got up and stole some stuff. We got wasted. We laughed. We passed out."… ad nauseam). Most of the characters are dull at best and awful at worst, without any redeeming qualities that I could see-- even the main character. They're flawed and bummed out about it, but not enough to consider becoming better people. And Tartt spends an awful lot of time trying to make us care about the characters by repeating their problems and sadnesses a million times over, none of which end up succeeding. Total waste of my precious reading time.
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107 of 130 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much, and not enough, November 14, 2013
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This review is from: The Goldfinch (Hardcover)
Beautifully written, in places, but a slog to an entirely predictable outcome. The plot is as thin and easy to detect as a bad veneer and the characters are shallow, simplistic and overdrawn. Boris has some gemlike moments, but is much too erudite and long winded for a Ukrainian thug. Hobie is a sweetheart but entirely unbelievable. Theo is a bore and a not very nice one. Pippa seems to exist only as a plot device to be taken up and discarded as needed like a cleaning rag. Some of the descriptions of NYC are among the best I've ever read, but finding them amid the mind numbingly overwritten prose is like panning for gold - lot's of work, not a lot of reward.
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The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Hardcover - October 22, 2013)
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