You know how some books are wonderful the read, but you hate the ending? And some books have a magnificent plot that wraps up in a perfect bow, but reading it is hard?
“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt is one of those rare books that’s as wonderful in the journey as it is in the destination. I couldn’t recommend this work of fiction more strongly. It’s achingly beautiful, even in its ugliness, and it tells the kind of meaningful story that resonates.
I picked it up because it was recommended as one of the best books of 2013 by Amazon books editors, and it lives up to the accolades. “The Goldfinch” is the subject of a master work of art that captivates young Theo after his mother dies in a shocking accident. We follow Theo through his teenage years in Arizona and New York City and then through a life-changing series of events in his 20s.
The book is 771 pages long, and Tartt’s writing uses a lot of description, but it’s beautiful, languorous language of people, locations and feelings, even when it describes such ugly things as drug-use, hangovers and opiate withdrawal. Speed-readers might not like it; I really savored the writing.
At one point, the main character is pondering John Singer Sargent’s art, and makes a point that the author herself uses:
I think of something I read about Sargent: how, in portraiture, Sargent always looked for the animal in the sitter (a tendency that, once I knew to look for it, I saw everywhere in his work: in the long foxy noses and pointed ears of Sargent’s heiresses, in his rabbit-toothed intellectuals and leonine captains of industry, his plum owl-faced children).
In a way that tells so much about the players Tartt, too, evokes animal in her character descriptions:
By contrast Hobie lived and wafted like some great sea mammal in his own mild atmosphere, the dark brown of tea stains and tobacco, where every clock in the house said something different and time didn’t actually correspond to the standard measure but instead meandered along at its own sedate tick-tock, obeying the pace of his antique-crowded backwater, far from the factory-built, epoxy-glued version of the world.
In “The Best Books of 2013” by Amazon Books editors, Tartt said she reaches for a book of poetry when she’s feeling dull or uninspired while writing, and it shows. I dog-ear the pages of a book with beautiful turns of a phrase or powerful description, and look how many pages I dog-eared on this one:
Here are a couple of examples:
I felt rotten. Dead butterfly floating on the surface of the pool. Audible machine hum. Drowned crickets and beetles swirling in the plastic filter baskets.
We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”
About two-thirds of the way through, I disliked the main character so much, I wondered why I had plowed through 500 pages to spend time with him. He didn’t actually redeem himself in the end, but Tartt did with her descriptions and philosophy of objects, beauty and right and wrong.
This is a book for readers. If you’re one of those, pick it up.