Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. 

So, I recently joined a book club on Fable with some of my bookish friends (#neverreadalone, you should definitely check them out). The first book I read with them was Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

The story begins with Theo Decker, at the age of thirteen, having everything stripped away from him in a violent act of terrorism. After losing his mother (and being unable to be reconnected with his father), he winds up in the custody of a childhood friend’s family. Now surrounded by wealth, he begins a life-long journey to becoming a chameleon, melding easily in with the upper echelon. It is only through a series of unfortunate events that he learns to blend with those less fortunate. Burdened with a terrible secret about a missing, priceless heirloom, we navigate his harrowing trek into adulthood at his side, watching him stumble through piss-poor decisions and addiction. 

First and foremost, as it goes without saying, The Goldfinch is bleak. As someone who only really started caring about “happily-ever-afters” in her adulthood, I am a staunch subscriber to the belief in the power of the written word to wound, mold, and heal us. And even I struggled with the grueling, unending bleakness of this story. At a certain point, it felt like Tartt set up a corkboard labeled “trauma porn” and just threw darts to see where the story would lead next. 

The writing, while beautifully flowing and (largely) well executed, wasn’t enough (for me) to sustain the punishing chapter lengths. Frankly, I found myself more often annoyed than sympathetic. Especially with the privileged undertones (particularly pertaining to how all POC roles were relegated to service roles and served as launch-off points to espouse Theo’s/his mother’s moral value), ineffectually portrayed addiction/mental health struggles, and carelessly sprinkled pejoratives to make the text feel “edgy.” (N-word with an ‘az’, the r-word, specifically).

I felt the ending was rushed (as much as it can be in an 860-ish page book). It felt like a hastily scrawled note on the way out the door—Thanks for the good time, call you never. Despite the overall message (about art being enduring and healing) being a pleasant one, it felt almost incongruous with the emotional devastation the reader endures. It was a pretty, sparkly pink bow on brown, stained, and torn newspaper wrapping.

I’m torn on how to rate this book. Despite my own personal dislike, I can’t take away that it was a page-turner that could easily get a reader to emotionally invest. By those merits alone, I can easily see this being someone’s five-star read. For me, however, it was a blisteringly arduous read that provided no emotional fulfillment beyond agitation. By my own standards, I wouldn’t have written this review (as I refuse to leave a review that is less than 3 stars). So, in all fairness, I’m going to split the difference and rate The Goldfinch 3.5 stars. 

Have you read The Goldfinch? What were your thoughts?

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