Monday, June 29, 2015

Book: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch
By Donna Tart
Read by David Pittu
32.5 hours
Copyright 2013

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in April 2014. The Washington Post titled its article about this, "The Disappointing Novel That Just Won a Pulitzer."

This book is 784 pages, and it was very long to listen to. It has taken me, literally, two months to hear it in my car. In desperation I finally listened to the final three hours of it in my office, taking up yesterday afternoon to get through the final three discs.

Did it deserve a Pulitzer? I don't know. If this was the best out there for the competition, then I suppose it won as it should. But I think perhaps there were better stories available, maybe unfound or unrecognized as such. It concerns me that the things we value these days are not golden, but instead are some kind of gilded and bronzed enigma that should be something, but isn't.

The Washington Post reviewer calls the book a junk shop passed off as something unique and rare, to paraphrase. I cannot disagree.

The plot is simple: a young boy, Theo, is in a museum with his mother when a bomb goes off. His mother dies. In the confusion of the explosion, Theo, at the insistence of a dying old man, grabs up a 1600s-era painting called The Goldfinch and shoves it into a backpack. In his shock, he finds his way from the museum and home. He has a bad family life anyway, with an alcoholic and gambling father who had left the family a year earlier.

Tart spells this out painfully, giving us a blow-by-blow of young Theo's heartache, his inability to understand all that is going on about him, his surprise when his father turns back up, though the reader knows (nudge nudge) that the boozer has come back only for the estate money, whatever there may be. The boy goes with his father to Vegas. He makes a friend, he learns to do drugs.

The painting comes to symbolize hope, fear, sorrow, greatness, love - all of life - for this young boy, who grows into manhood keeping this great secret.

The joke's on him, though, for all is not as it seems. I won't give away any more plot in case someone actually wants to read this book. But the story meanders greatly, going into much detail and depth about things that may or may not matter. Nothing is permanent in Theo's life and the story of the ephemeral quality of life is thematic throughout, but never satisfactorily explained by the author, not even in the dramatic musings at the end of the book. In the end, it's a nihilistic point of view, that we're all just here to pass through airports.

The first part of the book was engaging, and I suppose that was what kept me involved. The book read more like three books, and it was really one long character study about a damaged person. Perhaps it should have been some sort of series.

Tart's work has more than 21,000 reviews on Amazon. Forty-one percent of readers give it 5 stars. Ten percent give it 1 star.

I give it 3 stars. It was interesting enough, obviously, or I would have stopped listening to it a long time ago, but it seemed overly drawn out. The ending came rushing at the reader without any real sense of deservedness. Much of what happened to the character seemed to have no impact on him or whatever message the author was trying to impart.

Because of that, I have problems not so much with the book as I do with the fact that this is the book that won the Pulitzer. I think I expected better, and expectations sometimes can color what we read or hear.


  1. Boy did you nail this one. I had a love-hate relationship with it and I, too, felt it was like 3 books, and also that the ending was precipitous. I hated the ENDLESS drug scene...and could a kid that young (in Reno) actually have survived all that he did

  2. ...meant to add at the end of that, "without his brain being fried" but my iPad wouldn't let me


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