"I don't care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here's the truth: 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. Forget all this ridiculous 'Our Town' nonsense everyone talks: the miracle of a newborn babe, the joy of one simple blossom, Life You Are Too Wonderful To Grasp, &c. For me -- and I'll keep repeating it doggedly till I die, till I fall over on my ungrateful nihilistic face and am too weak to say it: better never born, than born into this cesspool."
The Goldfinch is one hell of a doorstopper of a book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s tragic, grimly comic, and despairingly nihilistic, but also hopeful. And Tartt’s writing beautifully conveys all of this.
The book opens with Theo Decker visiting the Metropolitan Museum with his mother and while they are there a bomb is detonated and she is killed. Theo escapes the blast and leaves the museum with a painting (The Goldfinch) in his possession. The rest of the book is the story of his life, his friends, and the choices he makes (usually the wrong one). And that is as much as I’m going to say, as anything else would be a spoiler.
I don’t think I’m the only person to say The Goldfinch feels very Dickensian, not just for the ‘happy coincidences’ which advance the plot, but also for the huge cast of characters from all walks of life. Theo is part Oliver, part Pip, and part David Copperfield (although I don’t think any of them had Theo’s capacity for drugs and vodka). Boris is a modern day Artful Dodger, and Pippa could almost be Estelle.
Some reviewers have complained that the sections on furniture restoration went on for too long. I actually liked those. To me they added to Hobie’s character (he was my favourite person in the whole book) and I thought the slow, descriptive pace of these sections was a good contrast with the drug- and alcohol-fuelled crazy parts of the book.
The book isn’t perfect; there are some characters who are nothing more than one-dimensional plot-devices, a couple of the coincidences are a little bit too contrived, and at nearly 800 pages, perhaps the editing could have been a little tighter. But on the whole, those are just minor issues. This book held my attention from start to finish and in my mind is completely deserving of its Pulitzer Prize.