Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Instead of reading The Goldfinch, I listened to the audio version , narrated by David Pittu. I mention this because I noticed how many of the other reviewers think this book is too long. Listening rather than reading gives a different perspective on any book. First of all there's the interpretation of the reader. But there's also the fact that, outside of an occasional rewind, the words keep moving forward. There's less time to dwell on a thought or to wonder about a plot twist or character decision that might be clear a few paragraphs later. So listening rather than reading might have been the reason I didn't feel the plot dragged. Some of the drug scenes, especially the ones in Las Vegas, could have been shorter, but those parts aside, I felt the book moved well. At the end Donna Tartt allowed her characters to reflect on what had happened. I generally don’t like authors telling me how to respond to what they’ve written, but in this case it worked. The ideas were novel and interesting. They made me think.

I read Tartt’s The Secret History less than a month ago, so it’s been fun comparing the two. They certainly have a lot in common: crimes that the main characters are pulled into, almost unwittingly; and plenty of heavy alcohol and drug use among all the characters. But I found Richard (in The Secret History) to be unlikable, whereas, in this book, I grew quite fond of Theo despite his flaws. I felt the same about Boris and thought Hobie was a wonderful person.

There were plenty of moments when I couldn’t stop listening, times when I’d sit in my car for an extra few minutes after reaching my destination. Still, those moments weren’t the reason I loved the book. What made The Goldfinch special to me is the time when I wasn't listening, the time I spent contemplating the ideas. The novel has so much to say about art and its place in our culture, about situational ethics (or doing “what you had to do” as Hobie said), about forgiveness, and about the randomness of fate. If you’re the kind of reader who wants a book that sucks you in then lets you go, The Goldfinch is probably not for you.

Since The Goldfinch is told from Theo’s point of view we readers get more of Theo’s impression of Kitsey and Pippa than we get of their actual personalities, but they both have moments during which their dialogue reveals how they actually feel: Pippa’s frustration with how her injuries have affected her skills and Kitsey’s explanation of how love and marriage do not always mix. Other characters reveal themselves through action. Hobie is always there for the people he loves. Larry (Theo’s Dad) is not. Boris is a great friend who doesn’t believe in rules and wears his emotions on his sleeve. Mrs. Barbour is a formal woman who doesn’t show emotions until events break her. I love how these people are all full personalities and, at the same time, all unique.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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