“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life”
― Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
Such a long book seems deserving of a long review. It was well written, a solid story, but for me, it just fell quite flat. I sympathized with Theo, but I felt no connection to him, and that after spending hundreds of pages together. Tartt can obviously write, but I wonder whether she isn't a closeted short-story writer, rather than a novelist, because that's kind of how 'The Goldfinch' felt, like many vignettes featuring the same characters vaguely strung together. It wasn't that I didn't like it, it was a fine book, but after the tremendous amount of positive press and attention it has received, I was very wary to even read it, almost knowing I would be disappointed, and that has, unfortunately, been the case.
The idea of the story being tied together by one small painting really intrigued me, as I'm very interested in art and art history (though actually there wasn't that much of it in the book). I also found the people Theo met (Hobie, Pippa, Boris) to be the real highlights of this book, rather than Theo himself, who, even as an adult, is entirely uncharismatic. We are told relatively late that he and Pippa still suffer from PTSD, although it is obvious, really, that Theo was quite badly damaged by his traumas. I don't know whether Tartt intended for Theo to be so distant to show his trouble in connecting to the world, or whether it is just the way I interpreted his character. In either case, it prevented me from being as drawn in as I was, for example, with Boris' story. For the most part, I felt everything was told with a strange level of detachment wildly at odds with the deeply personal themes.
Tartt's style reminds me a little of Joyce Carol Oates in that there is a lot of descriptive, almost stream-of-consciousness style language. I generally find this method a little annoying and sometimes even inaccessible, so it obviously is not a plus in my eyes in relation to THE GOLDFINCH.
All in all, I'm not upset that I read it (although it really felt long, where others of similar length have not). I was curious what all the fuss was about, and now at least I know for myself. In terms of elegance of prose, Tartt is very accomplished and if that is the criteria, she certainly is deserving of the Pulitzer. The story was not that special, but it wasn't awful either, just depressing. In the end of the day, I think I just got tired of 700+ pages of almost unrelenting melancholy.