Imagine being able to keep readers’ attention throughout a novel of 771 pages. Donna Tartt is a skilled writer, of that there is no doubt. If one were to believe all the glowing reviews of The Goldfinch, one would think it would be a novel in the Dickens’ tradition! However, in reading the 2 and ½ pound book, a less monumental view emerges.
The characters are finely drawn: Theo, Boris his Ukrainian sidekick in Vegas, Hobie, Pippa, Mrs. Barbour and Theo’s gambler father. The plots are absorbing: a tragedy in which a young boy’s mother is killed; a famous painting survives an explosion; a dead man’s ring leads a teen to a kind and caring man; and a young boy’s estranged father finally comes forward to help him.
There are plot lines that are disturbing: drugs and their effects on a teenager; the lack of parenting skills on the part of several would-be saviors; continuous drug-induced bad decisions and complete lack of personal responsibility on the part of the main characters. Some plots are believable and understandable; others not so much. Perhaps plots taken from real life are harder to believe than fiction, but the reader’s imagination is stretched.
The themes of beauty and its value, family and fate are intertwined effectively. This thirteen year old boy knows right from wrong – hence the guilt that seems to haunt his whole life. Theo is so obsessed with a painting that he can’t seem to turn it into the authorities. The niggling questions that remain unanswered are: How on earth did Theo find a shopping bag in all the confusion of the explosion?
Didn’t he want to keep the gold ring given to him by the dying man? How does a 14 year old cross the country with a dog in tow on a bus without anyone stopping him? How did an impoverished single mom save money for her son to go to college? Did Ms. Tartt have to include a ring of professional art thieves into the mix? The largely unedited book moves swiftly from tragedy to tragedy towards an ending that, while somewhat plausible, makes one think that the art police should have been called at a much earlier time! That said, Donna Tartt has a way of keeping the reader involved until the last page.