The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

I bought this as a good long read for over Christmas and at 700 odd pages it is certainly long. I sort of suspect that Donna Tartt was trying to compete with Charles Dickens in a sort of social history, odd twists of fate, happy ending sort of way and maybe that endeavour overtook the plot.

The first eighty pages are desperately sad, and I mean desperately and unremittingly so, so don’t start this book if you’re feeling a bit down. After that, there is an odd interlude with the protagonist out of place in his social situation (more Dickens) and then he has 400 pages where he is constantly drinking too much alcohol, taking huge amounts of drugs, never going to sleep, everything is confused, dreams and reality overlap and quite a few people die. Reading this kind of narrative gives you a sort of permanent hangover which doesn’t sit easily with Christmas indigestion.

Worse still, he doesn’t do things which are totally obvious and which would make life a lot better. In fact, given a choice he normally takes the wrong one and that gets a bit wearing as well. The Goldfinch is given lots of lots of significance but most of the time it is is more like an albatross in a literary sort of way.

I thought the ending was a bit contrived as well and I wasn’t really convinced by all these Russians who wander through the book as a kind of explanation for all the bad behaviour in the world but some of them have hearts of gold etc. It was as if Donna Tartt had looked up Russian drunks on YouTube and then modelled her characters on them. I couldn’t really see why anybody liked the dog either and the portrayal of Las Vegas seemed flat and poorly observed but maybe that was the narrator’s fault. The solid friendly woodworking character should have been more of a character given the central role but he just sat around emphasising cheerful stability and slowly making chairs.

All in all, I could have made a chair or maybe a dining suite in the time it took me to complete it and I was glad to finish it.


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