I was concerned I would fall off my pace for this year when I decided to take on Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, clocking in at 775 pages. I am happy to report that I finished it in a relatively reasonable amount of time (for me). I am less happy to report that I was a bit disappointed given all the hype surrounding it.
The opening scenes are very intriguing and drew me in quickly. The premise, that a boy in his early teens is present at a tragedy at an art museum and walks off with a prized work of art, is full of promise. But the exciting opening is followed by a less interesting stretch that follows the teenage protagonist, Theo, through some melodramatic and frequently trite adolescent angst. The one bright spot through this section is the introduction of Boris, a troubled classmate who, nonetheless, brings life to most of the scenes he is in.
Theo spends his high school years in Las Vegas and, having lived in Vegas for 4 years, I have to say that Tartt nails most of the details. The novel picks up the pace after he leaves Vegas but the last third of the book is a bit of a mess. One can forgive the young Theo for many of the bad choices he makes but later mistakes seem out of character and exist only to move the plot along.
Throughout, much of what happens in The Goldfinch borders on the improbable, relying often on coincidences and events happening out of nowhere. I was able to suspend my disbelief for a while, but the last third of the book, beginning with an unlikely chance meeting between Theo and an old friend, strains credibility.
The other problem with the last sections of the book is that these final chapters lack that drama that was so prevalent throughout the rest of the novel. The main resolution occurs while the main character sits in a hotel room. Theo only finds out what happens when his friend comes and tells him about it. And then they sit around his hotel room and talk about The Point of all that happened. And then Theo returns home and sits in another friend’s shop and they talk about The Point of all that happened. And the final section is Theo addressing the reader directly, explaining The Point of all that happened.
Much of the novel is engaging and intriguing but all that gets undone by the end. I hadn’t read that many new releases last year, but The Goldfinch certainly pales in comparison to The Flamethrowers.