Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old living in New York with his mother, has a happy, content existence until an explosion rips through his life, shattering everything he knows and loves. Lost and alone, he finds a new home with a friend’s family and tries to continue living a normal life. But Theo has a secret, something from the day his mother died, that will haunt him for the rest of his life.
A thoughtful novel about a boy whose life is forever changed by a tragedy that eventually leads him into the art underworld. Though overly long at times, Tartt’s first novel in over a decade does not disappoint.
The Goldfinch is a long, ambitious novel that follows one person through adolescence and into adulthood. Theo is an innocent boy when the novel begins, forced to grow up way too fast when tragedy strikes. It’s this event that will come to define Theo and change the course of his life, affecting everything he does, says, and thinks. This might seem like exaggeration, but it’s really not; it’s a careful examination at how long and far one single event can reach through time and space. Tartt does this very well through the prism of Theo.
There’s no doubt there are high expectations for Donna Tartt’s first novel in over a decade; after all, The Secret History is rightly considered a modern classic. So, does The Goldfinch live up to its promise? Tartt does an excellent job with it, that’s for sure. It’s very easy to read and, due to the sheer length of the novel, many different interesting subplots that keep the suspense up. Admittedly, there are times after Theo’s departure from New York that drag on a bit, but Tartt rights herself once that period is over (more about this I will not say because of spoilers), and heightens the tension on every page after that. It’s a long book, to be sure, but it doesn’t feel like a chore to read by any means.
One of the most interesting parts of The Goldfinch comes towards the end, when Theo becomes involved in the art underworld. Again, I can’t say much more than this because I don’t want to deprive you of the pleasure of discovering these plot points on your own, but suffice it to say that Tartt writes out this plot line excellently. There’s an undertone of desperation to this section, of a certain numbness that permeates the novel, and it only heightens the suspense. The mood and atmosphere of The Goldfinch as a whole is very well done; it sets a tone that is a harbinger of what is to come.
It’s hard to review a book like The Goldfinch just because there is so much going on within its pages; it’s difficult to discuss plot points that come later in the novel out of fear of ruining things for readers. But overall, it’s a character-driven story about a lost boy searching for some sense of identity, trying to find his place in the world. It’s emotional, yet completely numb at times; Tartt manages to juxtapose these two opposites, ensuring that the reader feels for a boy who doesn’t quite now how to feel for himself. Really, at its heart, it’s Theo’s story, and despite his missteps and blunders, readers will be won over by him from beginning to end.