Book Review: The Goldfinch

‘Caring too much for objects can destroy you…’

When I read Donna Tartt’s bestselling smash hit The Secret History, I never expected to be drawn into a world that is so alien to my own. The preppy academia described in that novel is a world away from my own life experience, and yet, I found myself immersed into The Secret History to the point of obsession. It was with high expectations then that I sat down to read The Goldfinch, Tartt’s epic 800-page novel about art history, trauma and a boy named Theo…

Following a harrowing terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 13-year-old Theo Decker must learn to navigate a strange, new world without his parents. Taken under the wing of James ‘Hobie’ Hobart, a kindly, older gentlemen who specialises in dealing and restoring antique furniture, Theo will eventually go on a journey that takes in a pill addiction in Las Vegas, an engagement to a local socialite and a lifelong friendship with an exuberant but unpredictable Russian named Boris – all the while Theo harbours a dangerous secret that could destroy the lives of everyone involved.

I will begin by saying that The Goldfinch isn’t as good as The Secret History. The characters aren’t as well drawn, the plot has too many moving parts and it’s too long. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed working my way through The Goldfinch, and by the end I was racing through the chapters with an inherent need to find out how the novel would conclude. The final few pages are not just the end of the story but a meditation on the purpose of art and why any of us care about it in the first place. At times, these concluding pages are transcendent in their masterful analysis, but it is debatable as to whether the sometimes arduous journey justifies the destination. There are characters and plot threads here that could have been discarded without negatively impacting the rest of the story.

The Goldfinch is a large undertaking, but for anyone else, like me, who loved The Secret History, Tartt has, once again, created an entire world to get lost in. And at a time when the real world is more depressing than ever, it’s kind of nice to be transported somewhere else once in a while.