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The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) Paperback – April 7, 2015
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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 --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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) --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Top customer reviews
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 GOLDFINCH 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!
In longer novels, too, it is easier to be forgiving of weaknesses in plot and character. Unfortunately, Ms. Tartt is in need of quite a bit of forgiveness. Plot holes fall within the scope of suspending disbelief until near the end, when we end up in a parking garage in Amsterdam. Of course, near the end is probably the worst spot to place your most unbelievable scene, as it sticks in the memory.
The biggest problem, however, is the personality of our main character. Clearly, Theo undergoes a severe trauma at the beginning of the novel which follows him throughout his life. Still, it can be difficult to sustain interest in a character that develops very little over the course of his life. One can understand his descent into drugs and crime as a teenagers cast out on his own, but as he grows older and nothing really changes for him, it becomes more difficult to sympathize with him. After 500 pages of drug-addled poor decision-making, things get a bit boring, relying on secondary characters and surprises—a couple real poppers—to keep the interest going.
Granted, there are some great supporting players here. Boris, Theo’s friend in exile, is the unforgettable, charming id of the book. Hobie is a great, gentle, imperfect father figure. Pippa is the girl on a pedestal. Even the wealthy Barbours, who help Theo in a distracted way near the beginning of the book, becoming quite interesting, especially when Theo encounters them again later in the novel. But they cannot quite counter the weakness in Theo as our guide.
Still, there are pleasures to be had throughout the book. The first half is spectacular, really capturing the despair of a teenage boy in crisis. The second half is tougher going, but is by no means a disaster. Ms. Tartt deserves credit for producing another quality novel.