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on 16 April 2018
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
Up to around page 730 (!) I found this novel extremely absorbing and drawing me in to the narrative, wanting keenly to know the result of several loose ends. These were: would there be a triumphant ‘comeuppance’ as between Theo and Lucius Reeve? (no), What would the outcome be between Pippa, Everett and Theo and Kitsey, Pippa and Theo? What would become of the painting? How would the relationship between the tragic Mrs Barbour and Theo end? How would Theo’s relationship with Hobie be finalised?
Most of these were in fact answered but only as relatively minor references that were overwritten by rather obscure and subjective philosophical views about the purpose or uses of art from about page 730 to the end (page 771). So my rather unsophisticated expectations of what was in part a bildungsroman novel and a crime novel were left somewhat let down by the author’s attempt at literary ‘depth’.

Perhaps the most compelling relationships were between Theo and the Barbour family, especially as between Andy, Mrs Barbour, Pratt and Kitsey; and as between Theo, his father and Xandra. The relationship between Theo and Boris, while clearly a strong and close one was also, in my view, somewhat tiresome. This was partly because I could not relate to one who was such a child of the cult of addiction and his further malign influence over and development of Theo’s own tendency towards the same, and partly because of his frequently awkward English expressions and use of Russian or Ukrainian phrases etc. However, all these characters were, I think, very vividly drawn.

In terms of suspense and excitement the novel maintained a high level though this was often interspersed (held up) with lengthy and tedious descriptions of the effects on Theo (especially) of his drug-taking and alcohol abuse.

As to thematic structure the novel has, in my view, two main ideas: first that of what the goldfinch painting signifies – its tragic captivity which is parallel to some extent with the mental or metaphorical captivity of Theo, tied to his possession of the picture which he cannot find a way of freeing himself from by returning it without being arrested. Secondly, the theme of fate or chance, seen as a soulless governor of life in general and showing itself intermittently in specific ways: first, of course, as the museum explosion that randomly kills Theo’s very warm and attractive mother and Pippa’s uncle ‘Welty’ Blackwell; injures Pippa yet preserves the fragile painting and Theo; secondly in the sudden whisking away by Theo’s father to Vegas – a man whose life is totally governed by chance as he is a gambler…

There is a host of minor characters which create a strong sense of New York elite as well as of the criminal world both in New York and Amsterdam and the scenes set in the vicinity of Vegas section of the novel also seem realistic.

A gripping book overall, but not without its longueurs.
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on 18 December 2017
Big, thick slab of a book that, near the beginning, although the story is set in modern times, contains some interesting facts about Low Countries painters of Sixteenth/Seventeenth Century times. However, it did not hold my interest enough to persevere.

I like and recommend the authoress Donna Tartt's unusual first novel, 'The Secret History', which is about a murder among (of all things) a small clique of American students who insist on specialising in Ancient Greek while the rest of their College and World have moved on. However, I suspect the authoress will never again write anything as good.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 June 2014
I must admit I approached Donna Tartt’s latest novel with a good deal of trepidation. After all, this was my most anticipated (new) novel ever (even surpassing the 'latest’ Auster or Roth) – in the wake of two masterpieces could she pull it off again? I’m pleased to say that, though (for me) The Goldfinch does not quite live up to the levels of focused and immersive characterisation of The Secret History or The Little Friend, its greater levels of ambition (and 'epicness’) are (almost) fully realised.

Once again, Tartt’s prose and storytelling ability are confirmed (in my book) as second to none amongst modern authors. She turns the 'coming of age’ tale of 13-year old Theo Decker and his early family bereavement (and purloining of 17th century Dutch artist Carel Fabritius’ eponymous artwork) into an, admittedly, at times, rather meandering, but by turns thrilling, touching and philosophical voyage through loneliness, parenthood, unrequited love, friendship, superficiality, sin and spirituality, whose scope is Dickensian in its expansiveness. And, although the page-turning compulsiveness of The Goldfinch’s first 200 or so pages has waned slightly by the time Tartt 'jump-cuts’ her story eight years forward, she has managed (once again) to deliver some deliciously (and increasingly) compelling characterisations – not least her central pairing of the sensitive Theo and his alter-ego, the care-free 'Russian’ Boris, together with mother and son, the ultimately kind Mrs Barbour and eccentric Andy (whose family provide refuge to Theo), kindly 'antiques dealer’ Hobie and Theo’s 'secret love’, Pippa (links to Great Expectations, maybe?).

And just when you might have thought that Tartt’s relatively restrained conclusion might result in her tale rather petering out, she ties up her 'loose ends’ (linking Theo’s outlook on life with Fabritius’ painting) with as poignant and profound an ending as I’ve read in ages. Here’s to the next decade of waiting for Tartt to put 'pen to paper’ again.
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on 21 August 2015
I just don't understand why all the other reviewers didn't give this novel five stars too. To start with the writing is flawless, the characters are wonderfully real and the plot and subplots gripping. I am sometimes an impatient reader and want to see what happens, skipping and scanning though stories. Not here. I want to savor each and every sentence, just as Tartt does; you can just tell she relishes every word she writes and places them impeccably in the right places. The depth and breadth of her knowledge is amazing. This novel is a symphony of people, places and happenings. I am loving every page and am now more than half way to the end. It is one of those books I don't want to end. I look forward to more from Donna Tartt.
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on 4 October 2015
Should I really be the two thousand and somethingth reviewer of this book? I don't know, but I do feel strongly about it given the time I spent reading it! One of my sons lent me "The Little Friend" quite a while ago and I was blown away by it. I thought Donna Tartt was an outstanding author and found the book completely absorbing. Some years later I got round to taking "The Secret History" on holiday and enjoyed it very much, despite some infelicities and irritants - I kept reminding myself this was a terrific first novel by a very young author. On reflection, I can't remember much about "The Little Friend", and a few things about the Secret History irked me - particularly the odd lack of sense of time. I assumed, from much that was written that it was set in the 1950's or early 60's, only to be startled by mention of ATM's. I noted the prancing around in expensive tweed suits and the grandness of the background of many of the characters, and the strange lack of development of some of the major ones. I found the fact that the narrator seemed to ingest large quantities of drugs and alcohol and nonetheless function quite normally irritating and/or boring. These memories came back very strongly when I read the Goldfinch. I was really looking forward to it, despite the massive hype. I tried hard to set aside difficult personal circumstances whilst reading it - it's not a bundle of laughs or meant to be. The start was thrilling and interesting, although as someone who has lost a close relative in a terrorist bombing incident I found it simultaneously both hard to read and at the same time unconvincing. This was a real city, real art gallery and a real painting. It was a fiction book, but I just couldn't believe the whole incident or much relating to it. I do not need to like or admire the characters in a book to enjoy it, but my goodness you wouldn't want to meet most of this gang. Only the delightful Hobie and to me, Mrs Barbour, came out with any credit or degree of likeableness. And again, major characters were very sketchily portrayed - Kitsey was just a cipher - I could not envisage her or why Theo would even consider marrying her. Pippa likewise was hard to see as a real, damaged person. Boris on the other hand rather stole the show. I was so bored with the endless descriptions of drug taking that I nearly lost the will to read on. Once, okay, but time after time just left me cold. There was a middle section of the book when I really wondered if I was going to finish it. And again, there was this weird sense of it not being in any particular period. Clearly, as there were random references to modern mobile phones it was meant to be contemporaneous, but it never felt like it. I had to keep reminding myself as all these people floated around in very expensive suits and hand made shoes and talked knowledgeably about obscure art and furniture (which really interests me in real life, so I was disappointed to find it drear) that they were in the main young (Theo was only 27, as I recollect) and that it was here and now. Theo's mother was another lightly sketched riddle - was she all she seemed? Did she have a shady life that partly caused his despised father to leave? How did they afford a housekeeper if they were so poor and are Kentucky horse dealers the kind of people who have antiques and good jewellery? Perhaps I just don't understand American social mores. Then it sort of descended into a kind of gangsterish noir in Amsterdam (but at least it had a bit of pace) with a whole new cast of baddies and then finished up on a grandiosely moral note with copious reflections on life, art, the universe and everything. I confess to a sigh of relief that at least I'd managed to finish it, but with a distinct lack of engagement, sympathy or any real enjoyment, and I really, really wanted to like it, too. 3 stars is harsh (I'd give it 3 1/2 if I could) as Donna Tartt undoubtedly has a brilliant turn of phrase and occasionally you just go "WOW" at the writing - but not often enough to lift the whole, for me at any rate.
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on 9 September 2015
My 5 star rating will no doubt confuse you as you read on. Rest assured, the 5 stars is intentional. So here we go. It took me a full year to read the first half of this book. For reasons I do not quite understand yet, I couldn't connect with the story, the writing and flow of the narrative, the characters somehow stayed with me in my day to day life. Then suddenly, one month ago,I committed to finishing it and get over my own limitations. I read the second half within a few weeks. In the beginning I had criticisms like: Theo sounded too feminine for a First Person Male character (well, I was wrong as you'll see when you read the entire book) Theo could not sound any other way and Donna Tartt expanded my understanding of how to write to character as a result...and I am grateful. I've spent four years writing my own novel and it has been one of the most torturous but life-affirming journeys of my life. I'm a creature of Reason and don't buy much into superstition or spirituality but I'm humble enough to admit that Reason does not explain everything. I feel taking my time to read this book was more about me, and less about the author's work. I feel that if I had completed the Goldfinch within a standard period of time, I would not have the privilege of living with Theo, Hobie, Pippa and Mrs. Barbour for a full year. Thank you Donna Tartt. I wish you strength an humour through every step on your journey and as someone battling four years to write something, I feel better that it takes you ten. Since I'll be done soon and thus double your speed, I can only hope that it will be half as good. Buy this book! It may be 800 pages...but every page is either Truth or preparing you for it.
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on 10 January 2017
The first half of this book was pretty good, in fact there were parts when I was gripped. The second half felt like it had been written by someone one drugs. It was so odd. and SO VERY LOOOONG. Give it a miss.
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on 22 August 2016
I feel bad writing a negative review for this book considering it's awards... but geez I have found this book SO hard going... it's long, drawn out, philosophical and frankly a chore to read. What a shame. Not an easy read basically and a lead character who is so confusing.
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on 17 March 2014
This wasn't bad but it went one and on and on.......I don't think it needed to be quite as convoluted in places in that I didn't need to know every little thing eaten at a meal or every building along a street or sit through an art lesson !
What I liked most was Popper's story running alongside Theo's story. That touched me far more. At times I was quite frustrated with Theo though his choice of friends was spot on. Hobie I adored and Boris as well. Both very different people encountered at different times in his life but both he needed and Andy, too. I was quite disappointed in Theo regarding Andy, though.
I almost packed this in around 100 pages in because for some reason the author had a bracket obsession and every single page had little asides in brackets. They drove me to absolute distraction but luckily she seemed to suddenly snap out of it. There's no way I'd have ploughed through the 700+ pages like that.
There were mistakes as well I'd not expected. Apostrophe errors of course then I890s then lost fullstops here and there. She also has a habit of not using capital letters after question marks or exclamation marks which I found strange. There was also a lot of foreign language used I had to keep looking up on a translation site which became wearing. You expect that in a textbook but not in a fiction tale. I didn't understand why Popchik was used at times then Popchyk. I'd assume it depended on who was talking but that didn't work out, either. She used some words I Googled and still couldn't find so I'm unsure if they were just made up or misspellings of something else meant-like fubsiness or pastose.
I didn't like some of her animal analogies, either.....and there were a few but I won't share them here. Even the chosen painting of said Goldfinch is a pretty sad one. I did cry in a few places but those were mainly where Popper was concerned. His inclusion probably saved the story for me, I must say !!
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on 27 June 2015
So far I have read only the first 9% of the story (my Kindle doesn't give page numbers. Not a lot happens but what does is very traumatic for the protagonist, Theo, a 13-year old boy living alone in New York with an artistically
minded mother. His no-good alcoholic father has left them to 'find a new life'. The story opens with Theo and his mother visiting an art gallery in which she introduces him to the merits of some Dutch painters. He spots a pretty girl accompanied by (he guesses) her grandfather. His mother wants to have another look at a particular painting (the GoldFinch) and they agree to meet up a few minutes later at the entrance hall cum shop. While making his way there a terrorist bomb explodes. He is very badly shaken and wonders what on earth has happened. While trying to make sense of the damage and carnage about him he talks to a dying man who has some friendly words for him and the gift of a ring. He stays with the man until he dies. He then manages to make his way out of the building, among the sounds of distant sirens and once out in the streets, blocked with fire engines and ambulances, he eventually returns home half expecting to meet his mother there. He phones her in vain.
Social Services eventually catch up with him and break the news that his Mother is dead, and arrange for him to be temporarily fostered with a wealthy family (of a one time school friend).

The foregoing summarised the first 9% (80 PAGES?) of the entire novel. This is the difference between LITERATURE and the JOURNALISTIC STYLE. Strictly speaking it is all you need to follow the rest of book which amounts in all to about 850 pages. Of course if the entire book were written in this way it wouldn't be a NOVEL as we understand the word: I would rather describe it as a FICTIONAL ACCOUNT; and indeed the entry for this book in Wikipedia contains just such an account. In a way all novels/stories fall between these two extremes. However there is more to it than just the amount of DETAIL: I mean the QUALITY OF WRITING.

For example I quote from the author's text describing Theo's situation when he meets the dying man:-

"My glance wandered to the long gash in his scalp, clotted and dark, like an axe wound. More and more, I was becoming aware of dreadful bodylike shapes slumped in the debris, dark hulks not clearly seen pressing in silently all around us, dark everywhere and the ragdoll bodies and yet it was a darkness you could drift away upon, something sleepy about it, frothy wake churned and vanished on a cold black ocean."

I mention all this because (I assume) it explains the substance of many of the reviews, the first 30 of which are divided as follows: 8 (*), 5 (**), 4 (***), 4 (****) and 9 (*****).

Since writing the above I have read the entire story. In some ways it is a compulsive read but there also passages which make very tedious reading, namely descriptions of drink and drugging.
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