Review: The Goldfinch | How to review a quasi Proustian novel

Title: The Goldfinch

Author: Donna Tartt

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Publication Date: September 23, 2013

Rating: 5 Stars

Dear fellow Babblers,

If you were able to sit through till the end of my last post recounting my breakdown and solution to my meaningless life as an upcoming literature graduate you would have discerned my promise to provide a review for one of Donna Tartt’s works. At the time I was confident in such an aspiration. Like most, I started my Tartt fever with The Secret History. Ok, so when I read an exceptionally like seriously GENIUS novel, I set up this sort of expectations and that leads into a disturbed territory of snobbish reluctance to read anything else from the same author out of fear that their other works will not compare. Yet, here I am precisely 771 pages from the beginning of The Goldfinch… Come on, we all know that sense of achievement and deceitful pleasure attached to completing a HUGE like seriously HUGE book… And there I was promising you guys a review of the work a few days ago…

How do you review a story about a 13 year New Yorker named Tho Decker who loses his mom, a beautiful woman in white trench coat who detests heals and made extra money as a part-time model in a museum explosion during an unplanned trip to admire some ancient Dutch masterpieces? How do you make sense of this boy’s infatuation with a small, yet intricately designed painting by a painter comparable to the beloved Rembrandt dating all the way back to 1654? How do you recreate Tartt’s long, Proustian discourses on the eighteenth century classical art world? How can you, in a few sentences (well, doesn’t a « review » imply the notion of the ability to retell a story briefly?), master the same claustrophobic, stuffy and foreign air of Theo’s stay with his corrupt father and drugged out girlfriend Xandra? How to characterize Theo’s friendship with Boris in a way as not to give away the virtue and intelligence masked behind the drugs, alcohol, and lawbreaking habits Boris imposes into Theo’s life? How can a review of The Goldfinch bring Theo to the home of the kindhearted friend of Welty, Hobie? How to give commentary of a novel which spans more or less 10 years of a young boy’s life and the infatuation of a young boy which exposes him to a world of drugs, theft and even murder (even if it was self-defense, it was STILL murder guys. For those of you who haven’t yet read The Goldfinch and have no idea what I’m talking about…Sorry but the murderer and the « murderee » remains a mystery until you reach page 678) ?

Before typing up this post I clicked through multiple reviews for Donna Tartt’s masterpiece and found close to nothing hopeful. Sure, there are you reviews and « who else has read The Goldfinch »-type of posts (REVIEW: The Goldfinch, The Goldfinch), the usual « best quotes » posts (3 Quotes: Donna Tartt). But I seriously like SERIOUSLY could not find any real perceptive or critical reviews that added a new dimension to the 800 pages I just read. I don’t mean to ask for a high school analysis of themes and motifs here guys so please don’t refer me to The Goldfinch: By Donna Tartt — Review. I call for you, you AND even YOU summer readers to pick up from you growing pile of library books “To go return” and rethink how the story made you feel. A review is supposed to tell how we feel when reading a particular work. Books weren’t meant to be read, finished, and left behind for the next…. I mean, isn’t that why we love reading book reviews so much? To hear a new voice and reinterpret stories from another’s imagination? Aren’t reviews like supposed to offer something new not just « OMG I love this book », « Why couldn’t Theo marry Pippa in the end > », « What’s up with Lucius Reeve anyway? ». Lets just go ahead and skip to the last few pages of the book which, in my opinion can be pulled from the story altogether and exist all on its own as a metaphysical commentary on beauty (something we already catch a glimpse of during the narrator, Richard’s heart-pounding lecture during Greek class in The Secret History).

If Tartt can stir our perceptions about this catastrophic life we are leading, which ultimately amounts to nothing, why cannot the book reviewer do the same to his or her readers? I don’t see authors writing books just to say I like this and that, I think so and so is the best out there. If that were the case, why read? We mind as well just tune into CNN and listen to the politicians battling over right and wrong in social welfare. What I’m trying to get at guys is the notion that as book reviewers we review books because we love books… thats a given… but how about for once we add something new… how did The Goldfinch affect you (if you are one of my fellow readers) as a reader/reviewer/whoever you may be?

Donna Tartt has told us « […] life is catastrophe. The basic fact of existence – of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends and whatever else we do- is catastrophe » (767). Apart from the long nights, early and dark mornings I spent lost in this underground universe Tartt creates, this passage at the very end is what really sent my mind twirling and sent shivers up my spine. These words that are so nihilistic, yet so utterly true. If we are readers. If we are writers. If we are book reviewers… Should we not all be engaged in perceptive imaginative discourse on what we read, perceive, observe? Tartt shows us the tangled nature involved in the art of writing, reading and perception. I think this idea works also for us who review books. Rather than stating that we love/hate/wish this character died/wish he fell in love with her types of reviews lets express what we feel, why we feel, what we take away from what we read. Maybe, just maybe the uncertainty, questions, feelings that we extract from Tartt’s work have a greater meaning and fulfill some greater purpose in our lives, as does the infatuation of the Goldfinch for Theo…

Yours Truly,

Delphine-2

Questions? Comments? Recommendations? Lets get in touch! Comment below!

(Photo credits go to Google).

11 thoughts on “Review: The Goldfinch | How to review a quasi Proustian novel

  1. I usually write the kind of reviews you’re discussing here. I don’t really say anything about the things going in in the book (don’t want to spoil), but I always try to give the feel and the emotion the book gave me. So reviews for books like this simply blow up (if you want an example, search my blog for The Radium Girls, Senlin Ascends… and I can’t remember what else at the moment xD). The problem is simply that I hadn’t started writing reviews at the time I read this book. Maybe I’ll reread it one day, because honestly – this masterpiece deserves all the love in the world. This remains the best read of several years, as I read it in maybe like 2014 or 2015. You don’t get to read books like this very often.
    I too have bought some other stuff by Donna Tartt, but like you, I’m also reluctant to try reading it. As The Goldfinch was my first read or hers. But one day I will, cause I usually don regret it when I read another piece by genius writers likes Neil Gaiman and such (his books have much of the same feel to me, although a different topic and direction)

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    1. I totally know what you mean! It’s so hard sometimes, depending on the particular book, to find a way to do it justice without simply retelling the entire story like a Sparknotes sort of thing. I’m still pretty new with book blogging myself but whenever I write a review I always try to think about how the work makes me FEEL and then reconvey that in my post. Once I’ve read more or less 50 pages of a book I have a general sense of the author’s tone and in which direction the book is heading, which allows me to already begin writing reviews without yet finishing.
      Have you read The Little Friend by Tartt? If I had read it before reading The Secret History and The Goldfinch I’m sure I would have liked it a lot more, but knowing already the masterpieces Tartt had already written caused me to have high and unfulfilled expectations reading The Little Friend. The dense descriptions and evocative imagery are all still present, but somewhere along the way the plot and order of events seems to be lacking suspense.

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      1. I have that one, but I haven’t read it yet. I don’t have The Secret History, so I suppose I’ll be reading Little Friend first 🙂
        New huh? How long have you been blogging? I’ve only been blogging for like 8 months myself.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird? If you like that kind of story like a sort of plot that takes place in the south and touches a bunch of racist topics then you love The Little Friend.
        OMG The Secret History is amazing; not as genius, in my opinion, as The Goldfinch but Tartts artistic language definitely comes through in The Secret History as well. It uses a similar narrative voice, from a male adolescent’s perspective but the narrator, Richard, is A LOT less likable than Theo, but nonetheless an enthralling read!
        Let me know what you think when you get to read the rest of Tartt’s books.
        Yup, my blog just turned one month a couple days ago. Even though it’s a lot of work and takes so much time, I’m absolutely loving every minute of it.
        Really?!! Coolio; wow, how are you liking it ? 🙂

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