Written by: Donna Tartt
Audiobook read by: David Pittu
Synopsis: It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
The Goldfinch is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breathtaking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher's calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.
What is this? Kayleigh writing a review? Can you believe such a shocking and unheard of thing? It has been awhile since I last typed out a review (March 25! WHAT!) and while I definitely missed it I'm kinda happy that the first book I finished (and actually wanted to review) during my absence was this huge hunk of words and emotions.
When everyone's glowing reviews of The Goldfinch* started trickling out I knew it was a book I wanted to read but also, I was in no big hurry. I mean, this book is ginormous. It's gargantuan. It is everything that terrifies me in a book when I know I can't read as often as I want. Plus big books are always such a pain to read in bed, you can never get comfy. So since I had gotten acquainted with audiobooks on my US holiday I decided it made sense to listen to this one instead of lug that 10,000,000 page dead weight with me everywhere. This was both the best and worst idea I've ever had. Best, because I now didn't have to carry the aforementioned giant book. Worst, because big page count equals big hour count, which I hadn't planned for. The Goldfinch comes in at a little over 32 hours as an audiobook, almost double NOS4R2 which was previously the longest book I'd attempted to listen to. And while I wish I could happily listen to audiobooks while I'm on the bus or reading emails or laying in bed before falling asleep, I really can't. I basically only had my drive to my non-uni job to listen (a measly 2 hours of travel each week), which was why I was barely at halfway in my "I'm Alive" post a couple of weeks ago even though I'd started the book back in February. Luckily I started restoring some furniture which turns out to be the perfect head space for audiobooks, and late last week I finally managed to tick "read the never ending, but lovely, The Goldfinch" off my bucket list. But you guys haven't waited two months to read about how long it takes me to read an audiobook. Move onto the actual book shall we?
For some reason I went into The Goldfinch thinking it was going to be about art thieves. Either I disregarded 90% of the synopsis or I skim read a review somewhere, but The Goldfinch isn't really about art thieves, or the underworld of art, or even really about art at all. It's first and foremost a beautifully crafted bildungsroman, an emotionally charged examination into the life of Theo Decker, a young boy who has his mother ripped from his life far too soon and in the most devastating way possible. The book progresses with Theo as he perseveres with all of the minor and major events that befall a 13 year old who loses his mother to a terrorist attack. The hunt for the father who ran off a year earlier, the temporary placement into another family, the fear of foster care, the endless wandering looking for something to fill a gaping hole, the return of the father, the move to Las Vegas, the discovery of a friend and drugs and old black and white movies to mask, if not fill, the gap a desperately needed mother leaves.
In Meg's review she said she thinks just about everyone could come away from this book with a different theme or a different perspective on the story. I think that your takeaway with this book may very well depend on your personal life experiences but I also agree with Meg that this is a book about pain, it's a book about loss and grief and trauma. But it's also a book about the ways we try to persevere through the pain and the trauma. We all have different ways of processing the events in our life, some people are proactive and predisposed to looking for the bright side while others, dare I say most of us, turn to potentially destructive means to keep our heads above the water. How Theo deals with his mother's death is not the same way another child in his exact situation would deal with it, and I think that's where this book excels. Even the most minor of characters have these myriad experiences that have shaped them and turned them into the people they are, making the decisions they make. From the outside we may see that they're making destructive or silly or ill-reasoned choices, but when you factor in their pasts you get it. You understand why they do the things they do, and you don't hold it against them**. Which isn't to say everyone in this book is a criminal or drug addict making awful life decisions and blaming it on the events in their pasts. There are some characters who have taken traumatic or painful experiences and learned from them, built businesses and families and lives. But there are also characters who deny themselves certain pleasures and certain parts of life because they're afraid of repeating the past or they think something they did 10 years earlier somehow denies them certain pathways.
There is no doubt this book is big. But even though I'm sure some of the length could have been lopped off I'm not really sure where you'd take it from. There are so many threads joining every character and event that it feels almost precarious, as though it'd all tumble into ruin if you removed even the most minor of plot lines***. It's a dense and complex story, weaving philosophical and academic perspectives into the very personal narrative. The titular Goldfinch is returned to time and again, a persistent anchor to the past and the tragic events that befell Theo while also symbolising persistence and a potential for a future not as fraught with horror as the past. David Pittu, the reader of the Audible copy I listened to, was magnificent. Not only was he beyond competent at every accent he attempted (his Boris is especially delightful) but his voice absolutely drips with emotion. You feel the longing and guilt Theo feels for his mother in every line, the contempt he has for his father, his confusion about his love life in the last part of the book, Pittu breathes life into every character and even if the book was only mediocre in terms of prose (which it isn't) I think his performance would still raise it to the dizzying heights its experienced since release.
So whether you decide to give your forearms a work-out with the 800 page physical copy or plan an epic road trip so you can devour the 32 hours of audiobook you should absolutely plan to get to this book sooner rather than later. It's rather brilliant.
*Might I recommend the reviews of the ever so lovely and intelligent Laura (Devouring Texts) and Meg (The Terrible Desire)?
**Or at least you understand it, even if you don't like it.
***Actually I lied. I would take out the final chapter/final 15 minutes of the audiobook. It wasn't badly written or completely extreneous but I also don't feel like it actually needed to be there.