“Things would have turned out better if she had lived.” A boy, Theo Decker, loses his mother in a tragic museum bombing, and his life is never the same again. With this heart wrenching quote begins the story of Theo’s life before and after the loss of his mother. From this loss, though, comes friendships and connections, as well as troubles, that span long after that one hour spent in the museum. Reeling from a loss of innocence and the entire life he knew, Theo embarks on a life filled with drugs, stolen artwork, lies, and love.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because I think everyone should enjoy it for themselves. This is one of those rare books that I dread finishing because I can’t bear to leave the characters behind. This was definitely one of the best books of 2013 for a reason: beautifully written, unforgettable characters, and twists and turns along the way, The Goldfinch is one of those books that lurk in your head until (and after!) you finish.
A lot of people called this novel “Dickensian” which I can definitely see now, with the childhood trauma and eventual self discovery, but there was so much more to it than that. Throughout the book, Theo grapples with the enormous ideas of fate, good vs. evil, and why art has such a profound impact on us, centuries after it was painted. The fate thing really hooked me though, because so often I found myself shocked and wondering what that chances were that things could play out the way they did. “Fate is cruel but maybe not random,” Theo learns from his collection of adventures and missteps, coming around to the idea that maybe things really do happen for a reason.
So much of the novel, Theo was doing questionable things, and it gave off a feeling of a bomb about to explode. Ice giving out underneath of you at any moment. Things had changed so quickly for him once, it seemed like only a matter of time before it happened again. He and Boris were no doubt a toxic influence on each other, but also the only friend the other had. This dichotomy is present time and time again throughout The Goldfinch. The double edged sword, the feeling that fate has a hand in Theo’s life, and it drags you in and doesn’t let go.
I really feel like I can’t put into words how beautifully written The Goldfinch was. This was my first book by Donna Tartt, and it’s no wonder her books come out as infrequently as they do. Every word, every line seems so well thought out and planned that it must have taken her ages. It wasn’t just the prose though; the characters came to life in a way not many do. Theo, Boris, Hobie, Pippa, I felt like I knew them myself by the time I was done.
This is definitely a huge book, almost 800 pages, but I promise it’s worth it. I couldn’t put it down, and haven’t stopped recommending it since I started reading it myself. 5/5 stars for The Golfinch. Ten stars. ALL THE STARS.
Some standout quotes:
“I had the epiphany that laughter was light, and light was laughter, and that this was the secret of the universe.”
“To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it, look very hard at what was close to hand and make it stand in for the whole;”
“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.”
“What if — is more complicated than that? What if maybe opposite is true as well? Because, if bad can sometimes come from good actions—? where does it ever say, anywhere, that only bad can come from bad actions? Maybe sometimes — the wrong way is the right way? You can take the wrong path and it still comes out where you want to be? Or, spin it another way, sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still turns out to be right?”
I could go on forever, so I’ll stop here. Have you read The Goldfinch? Are the rest of Donna Tartt’s books as amazing as this was?