I just finished reading Donna Tartt’s third and latest novel, The Goldfinch. The story is about a young boy who lost his mother during a terrorist attack in a New York museum. ‘The Goldfinch’ is a painting stolen from the museum by the thirteen year old boy who survived the attack. The painting becomes the secret that gives meaning to his life and the axis around which the story unfolds.
Whatever Tartt writes will inevitably be compared to her first book, The Secret History, that is now considered a modern classic. With The Secret History Tartt established herself as one of the best authors of her generation, whose unparalleled storytelling makes the reader unable to drop the book. Besides the brilliant narrative, Tartt’s insight into human psychology, sociability and human nature is reminiscent of the Russian literary giants. Her fictional characters develop in the course of the book and the reader is shifting his or her allegiances as the characters evolve. Tartt has set the bar very high with The Secret History and inevitably, all her subsequent works will be compared to it.
The Goldfinch does exhibit several of the traits that made The Secret History such a great book. The characters are well-crafted and Tartt’s depiction of their thoughts, illustrates her brilliant emotional insight. Tartt’s narrative shows that she can understand how people think and that she can decipher their darkest thoughts for our pleasure. If one appreciates a complex understanding of human psychology and a great narrative, then the The Goldfinch won’t disappoint.
Where The Goldfinch lacks compared to The Secret History is the story. The story just isn’t interesting enough and at various points the book fails to engage the reader. In some instances it becomes noticeably slow and dry. The story could have very well been narrated in 400-500 pages, instead of the 784 pages that make the book. Besides being unnecessarily long, the plot is not very interesting to begin with, making The Goldfinch far from the page-turner that The Secret History was.
Would I recommend the book to someone else? When I was around page 650 a friend asked me this question and my response was negative. Having finished the book and having read the last ten pages, I am now not sure. The last pages, which serve as an epilogue and a reflection on life, death and hope, are maybe the best ten pages I have ever read in a book by a living author, yet it would be hard to recommend it just for the sake of those ten pages.
The answer then to the question whether I would recommend The Goldfinch is a ‘qualified yes’. Although it doesn’t have an interesting story, Tartt’s brilliant writing makes it worth reading. That being said, if you haven’t read The Secret History, I would not recommend reading The Goldfinch. Rather, I would urge you to read The Secret History and then read The Goldfinch only if you fall in love with Tartt’s pen, like I have.