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The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) Hardcover – October 22, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, October 2013: It's hard to articulate just how much--and why--The Goldfinch held such power for me as a reader. Always a sucker for a good boy-and-his-mom story, I probably was taken in at first by the cruelly beautiful passages in which 13-year-old Theo Decker tells of the accident that killed his beloved mother and set his fate. But even when the scene shifts--first Theo goes to live with his schoolmate’s picture-perfect (except it isn’t) family on Park Avenue, then to Las Vegas with his father and his trashy wife, then back to a New York antiques shop--I remained mesmerized. Along with Boris, Theo’s Ukrainian high school sidekick, and Hobie, one of the most wonderfully eccentric characters in modern literature, Theo--strange, grieving, effete, alcoholic and often not close to honorable Theo--had taken root in my heart. Still, The Goldfinch is more than a 700-plus page turner about a tragic loss: it’s also a globe-spanning mystery about a painting that has gone missing, an examination of friendship, and a rumination on the nature of art and appearances. Most of all, it is a sometimes operatic, often unnerving and always moving chronicle of a certain kind of life. “Things would have turned out better if she had lived,” Theo said of his mother, fourteen years after she died. An understatement if ever there was one, but one that makes the selfish reader cry out: Oh, but then we wouldn’t have had this brilliant book! --Sara Nelson
From Publishers Weekly
Donna Tartt's latest novel clocks in at an unwieldy 784 pages. The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum that kills narrator Theo Decker's beloved mother and results in his unlikely possession of a Dutch masterwork called The Goldfinch. Shootouts, gangsters, pillowcases, storage lockers, and the black market for art all play parts in the ensuing life of the painting in Theo's care. With the same flair for suspense that made The Secret History (1992) such a masterpiece, The Goldfinch features the pulp of a typical bildungsroman—Theo's dissolution into teenage delinquency and climb back out, his passionate friendship with the very funny Boris, his obsession with Pippa (a girl he first encounters minutes before the explosion)—but the painting is the novel's secret heart. Theo's fate hinges on the painting, and both take on depth as it steers Theo's life. Some sentences are clunky (suddenly and meanwhile abound), metaphors are repetitive (Theo's mother is compared to birds three times in 10 pages), and plot points are overly coincidental (as if inspired by TV), but there's a bewitching urgency to the narration that's impossible to resist. Theo is magnetic, perhaps because of his well-meaning criminality. The Goldfinch is a pleasure to read; with more economy to the brushstrokes, it might have been great. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Oct. 22)
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Hobie sprang off the page full-fleshed. I wanted him in my life with all of his fastidious charm, his love and understanding of the treasures he patiently restored, his welcoming warmth.
Then there was Boris. The wild card of a boy. A charming danger of a man. He was self-destructive, loving without restraint. A friend with betrayal in his mind and regret in his heart that grew so large he almost died trying to remedy it. Yet leaving the story, you knew that cycle of betrayal and restitution would never end until Boris ended. The anomie of Boris, his “desire without limit” would never be satiated; it would only intensify.
Incisive and shattering. Tartt has the ability to surgically remove your heart and replace it fully engorged with fresh blood and clarity of insight about things you know, but have never had the words to express.
One tantalizing theme:
The sharing of beauty and ideas across time. Like the painting of the Goldfinch tantalized and affected the lives in her story, I’m sure Ms. Tartt’s novel will tantalize and affect the lives of future readers long after today’s readers are dust.
What I hated:
The prose: Yes. The author drove me insane with the redundant pounding of ideas--again and again--until three pages in I was screaming, "You've made your point. I get it! Where did the story go?"
The end: It was a summation of philosophy. I was left never to know what happened to any of the characters I’d come to know and relate to or even dislike. What I could be certain of was they continued their lives into “age and loss” with “no way out but death.”
Donna Tartt is at times a brilliant writer and a masterful wordsmith. But she reminds me of a Grammy-winning jazz trombonist that I saw at a club once. He was an amazing technician and could coax more notes and different sounds out of the trombone than anyone I had ever heard. And while I could certainly appreciate his technical abilities and marvel at the otherwordly sounds he could create with the instrument, in the end the performance was not satisfying. I was looking for some semblance of a melody and artistry at least somewhat pleasant to the ear, but what I got was a cacophanous display of technical ability.
Yes, you can have too much of a good thing. And Donna Tartt proves it with The Goldfinch. No matter how skillfully she writes about Theo's drug-fueled escapades in Las Vegas, we are so tired of hearing about them after a while. And regardless of how well she conveys all of the things going through his mind while holed up in a hotel in Amsterdam, we just don't care at some point.
I understand the tendency of a good writer to do more of what she does well. What I don't understand is the writer's conceit in not recognizing and overcoming that tendency. While I see this as a serious fault in a writer, I find it unforgivable in an editor. Both of them are guilty of taking a 500 page great book and turning it into an 800 page good book.
I can’t help feeling that this book is almost a companion piece to the Catcher in the Rye. The two novels obviously have some common themes, but it’s more the tone than the construction that reminds me of Salinger, though this book would have been greatly improved if the writer had followed Salinger’s lead in brevity. There are portions of the novel where the writer is so in love with the language (and, god she can write!) that she benumbs the point and loses the thread of the plot. But that is forgivable from writer such obvious talent...though I did find myself skimming the endless detail of crowd scenes and the tiresomely repetitive though beautiful inner workings of Theo's thought processes about the goldfinch, his life, his love, etc. The writer paints characters with such swift deft strokes of a painter working in the fast drying plaster of a fresco that the sudden turn to intense stippling when we dive beneath the surface of the main character becomes plodding. I know the framework of the story hangs on the painting of the goldfinch but I found myself almost annoyed when the goldfinch was re-inserted in the story. The characters are so well done so intriguing that even the superficial characters like the magician-cabby Appear full-blown on the page. I would have enjoyed more of that when it came to Theo. Sometimes ambiguity is better than a dissertation.
The end of the book takes on the one of a thriller, and what a thriller it would have been without the self-pitying Theo. the denouement was a real chore to get through, the book was over why not let it be over?
All in all I enjoyed this book but would have enjoyed it more if the author had spent a little more time winnowing out some of the repetitive descriptions and similes. I liken it to walking through the Louvre. try to cram it all into a day and you end up with an eyerolling 'woo-hoo , another masterpiece.'