The Goldfinch
Donna Tartt
Contributed by Ariane Heyne
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Writing for The Guardian, Kamila Shamsie (2013) hails Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch as a compelling novel written in the first person. The most interesting thing about the novel, according to Shamsie (2013), is how the novel changes tone and gear for a while to highlight the dislocation of Theo’s life after his mother’s death. Theo’s life becomes dislocated both physically and emotionally. Physically, his father is, for a long time, absent — and, consequently, Theo finds himself living with well-wishers, including the Barbours and Hobie. The novel also presents endless twists in Theo’s life as he meets and interacts with different people over time. For Shamsie (2013), the The Goldfinch can be described as both an action and a suspense novel. All through, the reader expects that Theo would make decisions that would turn around his life, and yet it never happen.

Shamsie’s review (2013) could be considered an accurate reflection of The Goldfinch because it is centered on the effect of how a young boy loses a loved parent. In events of such losses, the presence of a trusted adult is important for a child to continue with a good life. Because he did not have a loving father to rely upon, Theo took matters into his own hands by avoiding being placed in foster care and choosing to stay at a friend’s home. Shamsie (2013) also describes the novel as having good prose, which motivates the reader to continue turning the pages. Towards the end, the novel unearths all the hidden and complicated ideas and brings them into the light.

In different review that was also featured in The Guardian, Julie Myerson (2013) feels that in The Goldfinch, Tartt forgets — from time-to-time — to focus on what is driving her readers. First, Myerson (2013) likes the novel for its movie-like plot and the manner it exonerates art crimes in the modern world — in a world which art crimes are getting complex, and where consequences for such are almost non-existent, people are highly likely to get tempted to engage in art crimes like Theo did. However, Myerson (2013) laments that the narrator in the novel is unreliable. The narrator talks of his love for Pippa, but there is no evidence to show that this love ever existed; the narrator only wants the reader to believe so. Finally, Myerson (2013) believes that Tartt uses too many conversations and monologues in the novel, which is unsuitable for most adult readers. There is also too much repetition of facts, with most conversations and monologues only reiterating what the reader already knows. Myerson (2013) wonders who Tartt is trying to convince by her excessive use of conversations and monologues — is it the reader or herself?    

Myerson’s concerns (2013) are worthy because the novel uses a narrator who is not the author. Tartt effectively distances herself from the events in the novel by using Theo as the narrator. For this reason, inconstancies are likely to occur between what the author intends to share and what the narrator tells. The extensive use of conversations and monologues are important literary tools for clarification of prose (for example: to clarify where Theo’s heart lies: antiques and narcotics). Tartt also employs conversations and monologues to describe the horrific white-knuckle rise, which is an addiction. While description in forms of monologues occupies substantial number of pages, it is worth it because it highlights things that Theo consider important in his life (Myerson, 2013). In other words, his love for art and drugs and his thoughts about the same are exposed through monologues and conversations with others.

The New York Times’ Stephen King (2013) reviews Tartt’s novel from two fronts: from the novel itself; and via the novelist. On one hand, King warns readers to approach the novel with caution because “huge content comes with suspicion.” When consumers are spending their hard-earned cash to purchase a novel, the first question they ask is whether the novel is worth their time. They have the right to ask if, for example, The Goldfinch is a novel worthy spending time reading. King (2013) believes that Tartt’s third novel would have been better for most readers if it were shorter. However, the novelist labored for over ten years to produce this novel, which indicates that the final product is an ambitious project worthy of consumption. For King (2013), he describes The Goldfinch as a smartly written literary novel and a rarity that comes once in a decade. The reader keeps expecting that something better would happen to Theo, yet this never seems to happen. The reader is kept in suspense, as if they are watching a movie in which ill-prepared police officers are chasing dangerous gangsters.

It is agreeable that The Goldfinch is huge in content, as King (2013) notes. But there are numerous aspects of the novel that makes it worthy of consumers’ hard-earned cash. The most important thing about the novel is its educative theme: art is addictive, art is good. Theo, for example, is addicted to The Goldfinch and is always concerned about its safety. Similarly, in Hobie’s shop, people are so addicted to art that they can buy antiques at any price that the seller determines. On the other hand, people go to museums to enjoy art as well as escape the boredom and sadness of the day-to-day struggles of life.

The Independent’s Boyd Tonkin (2013) observes that the themes used in Tartt’s novel dwell on illusionary metamorphosis, and that it fabricates a plausible reality using simple literary techniques. First, the author’s polished prose enables the reader to share Hobie’s obsession and skills in the craft of renewing antiques. Similarly, Theo’s narration is full of ornate antique-trade conversations that trigger readers to reflect on their own artifices. The prose enables the reader to walk with the narrator hand-in-hand as the narrator cherishes the stolen masterpiece, which is tangible proof of the event that led to the tragic loss of the narrator’s mother. The reader can also relate to Theo’s experiences during the two years he spends with his father in Las Vegas. Theo is seen not only losing his innocence and getting into narcotics, but also growing brighter and wiser. Subsequently, the novel proceeds to the “great expectation” stage, where Theo seems to be transforming into a self-determined man (Tonkin, 2013). His fate, however, never allows this to happen.

Tonkin’s (2013) review provides an accurate overview because The Goldfinch is a novel whose plot readers can easily relate to. For example, the novel lets the reader visualize and feel the real goldfinch bird beyond what a mere painting can do. Equally notably, readers of this novel can put themselves in Theo’s shoes and sympathize with his situation. The most emotional situation is when the young Theo is waiting for his mother to return to their apartment after she disappears from him after the museum’s blast.

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