I just finished reading the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I loved the first part of the book in which a young Theo Decker comes into possession of a priceless painting of a goldfinch. I felt such empathy for Theo. I could hardly wait to find out more about the mysterious elderly man and his granddaughter Theo encounters in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Theo’s mother dies in that museum as a victim of a terrorist bombing.
Tartt kept me engaged as Theo moved in with a school mate’s family after his mother’s death. The Barbours were far from perfect but they were quirky and interesting, and basically kind to Theo as was Hobie a furniture maker who turns out to have been an associate of the elderly man and his granddaughter. Hobie offers Theo friendship and sanctuary in his furniture shop. Theo has lost his mother but still has people who care about him. I felt hopeful for him even though it was clear he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Then author Tartt threw me for a loop. She sent Theo to live with his alcoholic, drug addicted, gambler of a father and his messed up girlfriend in Las Vegas. I know a book needs conflict to succeed and I know heroes need challenges but Theo is too young and too damaged to meet this challenge. He makes best friends with a boy named Boris and the two of them sink into an endless round of drinking, drug use, theft and junk food orgies. It’s not their fault. They both have experienced severe trauma and have dysfunctional parents who leave them to their own devices, but their sad existence goes on and on and on and on and Tartt describes each revolting, damaging binge of Boris and Theo and its after effects in great detail. Would it never end? I felt sorry for Theo but I got so tired and disgusted reading this section I put the book away for a time.
Thankfully when his father dies Theo is able to go back to live with Hobie, who provides Theo with love and acceptance. But Theo is now irrevocably scarred and messed up and continues to be involved with drugs. He no longer enjoys learning. He is depressed. He becomes engaged to a woman he doesn’t really love. The petty thievery of his youth becomes more serious as he scams Hobie’s furniture patrons out of money and enters the underworld of art theft.
Things do not wrap up with any sort of satisfaction for the reader. Yes some of Theo’s most pressing problems are solved but the novel does not really give us hope for Theo’s future. The book ends with Theo spending a great deal of time philosophizing for the reader about the meaning of life. I read this part slowly. I thought about it. I read it again. But most of it wasn’t a philosophy I could espouse, nor would I want people I love to live their lives with Theo’s philosophy. Here’s a quote to give you an idea.
Because I don’t care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here’s the truth: life is a catastrophe……. better never born, than born into this cesspool. Sinkhole of hospital beds, coffins, and broken hearts. No release, no appeal, no “do-overs”……….no way forward but age and loss, and no way out but death.
I’m not sorry I read The Goldfinch. I loved certain parts of the novel and really didn’t like others. It wasn’t the novel I expected. I have read some novels many times. I won’t read The Goldfinch again.
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