I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
Well, I am thankful that is over! This book is about 350 pages too long. I read quite happily and easily until around page 515, then I had to flog myself to finish it. And then suddenly, the last 30-50 pages redeemed it somewhat.
I know that I am not alone in having difficulty with The Goldfinch. One of my friends sent me a link to an article that quoted research by Kobo—only 44% of people who buy the book on Kobo actually finish it. (https://www.theguardian.com/commentis...) And isn’t it somewhat creepy that Kobo can monitor if you finish a book or not? But that’s a subject for another post. (Thanks, Grim, for that article!)
At any rate, I started the novel with great sympathy for Theo, as I lost my parents suddenly in a car accident. The difference between us being that I was 34 years of age, not 13, but I could imagine the way that it would devastate a young person’s life. Tartt writes traumatic loss and grief extremely well. I could identify with a lot of what Theo experiences—living in a kind of fog, not really being tremendously motivated, dreaming of the absent parent, thinking I saw the departed at the edge of a crowd, things like that.
But after that point, there were at least 300 pages which just bored me rigid. I just didn’t care about Theo & Boris and their exploits. But this was a real-life book club selection, so I forced myself onwards. I had just about come to the point where I was willing to admit defeat, read the last chapter after skipping 100-150 pages, when fate intervened. Namely my upstairs neighbours! Last night, they held a rockin’ party (to which I was not invited, not that I would want to be.) But, unable to sleep with the bass notes of the music permeating my apartment, I settled in to do battle with the last bit of The Goldfinch. And something strange happened—I actually really enjoyed the last 50 or so pages, the philosophizing about the meaning of life and art. I still can’t actually say that I would recommend the book to anyone except the most dedicated of readers. This despite the fact that I regularly finish books that are very nearly as long with ease (Guy Gavriel Kay’s works are often around 600 pages) and I’ve read more difficult long books (Gravity’s Rainbow or Dhalgren for example) and I’ve even finished really long, really bad books (Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard).
So, I have become one of the 44% of those who have finished the book. I enjoyed those last few pages. And the glow of those two things raises the rating for me from 2 stars to 3 stars. Your mileage may vary.