The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, or The Week I Couldn’t Decide

The Goldfinch

October 2014
Recommended for fans of the Pulitzer, Jonathan Strange
 ★    ★ 

I can’t get no sat-is-fac-tion, and I tried! I tried! Oh how I tried!

Nothing’s working for me this week:

It started with The Element of Fire, followed quickly by The Last Dragonslayer, Midnight Robber, then a genre switch to Bandits, Dark Digital Sky, Return, by Peter S. Beagle, Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaurand now The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Only pages into a few (Leonard, Hopkinson), a few I’ve read over half (Allison, Beagle) but almost all I intend to finish. But I’m considering throwing The Goldfinch in the DNF pile.

You know me–I don’t often give up on a book. Right time, right place and all that. But despite waiting forever for a library copy, I just don’t care. I picked up The Bread We Eat in Dreams just a day ago, trying to wipe the residue of a nasty meeting away. At 1%, I have a significant portion of writing of “The Consultant” outlined, writing that is playful, erudite, and cleverly self-aware. I mention this because Tartt’s glorified writing was painful in comparison. By all accounts, I ought to love The Goldfinch. Elaborate passages, vivid descriptions of New York–and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of my favorite places in the world–and loads of character depth.

I still don’t care.

It feels pretentious and preening, self-aware in that extravagantly dismissive way New Yorkers can have, that “look-at-me” image that dismisses you as soon as you look.

And Theo, the lead character… I’m not warming up to him. Self-absorbed, noticably lacking in empathy, he is the epitome of thirteen. Of course, Tartt could take him places, so I’ll keep reading. But I’m finding him hard to like, and with many Issues that seem self-generated, I really don’t care. Pity part of one, please–I’ll be leaving now.

I might be able to forgive the writing, since I do love a well-turned image, and possibly I could come to be interested in Theo, but I’ve just reached the scene of the explosion and Theo’s reaction, which seems so consciously contrived and artificial that the writing shouts Detailed Over-Explanation for Meaningful Stuff that Will Be Important Later.

I’m not saying I mind obvious, or contrived, but in this case, it starts to feel like three strikes: unlikeable narrator, pretentious writing, forced plotting.

I’m going to thank the library for giving me an out.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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10 Responses to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, or The Week I Couldn’t Decide

  1. Zanna says:

    I read about this in the London review of books when one of my offline bookworm friends was raving about it, and I knew then it was not for me

  2. C♠ says:

    I started reading this book and couldn’t get into it, but I continued and by the middle I was in love. It didn’t feel real or belieavable, but I loved the writing. However it soon started to drag and the ending made me feel frustrated and like I wasted my time. So I don’t blame you for dropping it and wouldn’t reccomend persevering – there are some lovely parts of this book, buried in a lot of frustration and yes, Theo really isn’t a nice character at all.

  3. 1stavenue says:

    I know the feeling, recently went through 3 pretentious books myself. Hang in there. In a few weeks Foxglove Summer will be out and we’ll all have fun reading again.

  4. thebookgator says:

    How are you getting it? Through Amazon UK? I usually wait until it comes out and then have it shipped from a UK bookseller.

  5. I make it about five pages through ‘pretentious’ and I hope to all that is good that I’m not writing the same myself.

    That’s the fear in debut writers – no matter how many (or few – about 10) people have been reading along, what will things be like when you aim for and hit the marketplace – and go down like a stone.

    I know my description and prologue do and may need rewriting, respectively, but I’m reasonably comfortable with the rest, and it will get a thorough edit that smooths out a few book-length details such as consistency in how I write, capitalize, and apostrophize (word?) ma’m.

    The Goldfinch was an award winner and a bestseller – but I have no desire to read it after seeing many reviews including yours, and people say they couldn’t get through the whole thing. I like my plots tight and crisp, motivated and real. No plot holes, please. I can’t stand a book, movie, or TV shows where I can’t identify with at least ONE of the characters (I liked Dexter – go figure), fairly close to the beginning, because I need an avatar into the story to become.

    Sometimes it’s hard to trust your own taste, but that is what you have to do.



    • thebookgator says:

      Best of luck to you in that process, Alicia. The Goldfinch worked for a number of people, but not so much for me, clearly. Perhaps part of it was a misunderstanding of purpose; had I known it was going to be one of those literary endeavors, I would have passed. Audience and all that. And I agree, I like to have a sympathetic character.

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