Saturday, April 19, 2014

BOOK: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, 770 pages

Pulitzer Winner 2014; Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction shortlist 2014

I'm having lots of dilemmas/issues with this book. Clearly, it is being recognized as a wonderfully literary book. It just won the Pulitzer for heaven's sakes. Many reviews at Librarything with raves of 'engrossing' and 'best read of the year.'  Almost one third of the starred reviews give it 5/5 stars (221/628). But...

If I am going to read a 700+ page book, I need something - emotional investment, intricate plotting, multiple interesting characters interacting, beautiful writing (that matches the way my brain likes to read) or a surprising twisting ending. Something like a Stephen King or Sarah Waters or Kate Atkinson can pull off. Mysteries (real mysteries) by Deon Meyer or Tana French can support the big pages with their plots and characters. The Goldfinch had little if any of this for me. I'm going to be a little harsh in my review, only because after reading other reviews, the disappointing parts stand out for me.

I won't go looking for any more Donna Tartt books after that experience. Bloated text with a plot that wasn't complex enough to sustain the pages. Her use of technology from 14 years ago was a constant interruption for me as THAT WASN'T THAT COMMON! I liked the beginning, thinking I was in for a great ride with characters and some elaborate plot - nope. Even the technology - I thought there would be some reveal about Theo and why his recollection didn't match the reality of what life was like. Was he an unreliable narrator, my favorite kind? Nope.

Most of the characters were okay, like Boris and Hobie the furniture guy, but only from Theo's eyes, so they weren't that developed. There was a lot of potential, and some parts read quickly, but it didn't do much for me, and after the fact, all the annoyances are seeming even bigger.

I've seen reviews were people describe the writing as suspenseful. I would not use the word suspense here: I almost stopped reading with 150 pages to go because I really didn't care what happened in the end. (But the ending? That was it?) My complaints would have been less with a better ending. I can deal with one or the other - boring story but killer ending,(The Woman Upstairs paid off in the end for instance) or a great beginning and middle, but less than satisfying ending (Life After Life, Americanah). But both? blech. I expected more than that, and the last fifteen pages or so of ? I'm not sure what it was. I wasn't invested enough to get into the philosophical ramblings of Theo about art.

In the end, the writing has to 'match' the way your brain likes to process information, and it wasn't a great match for me. Having said that, I read it much quicker than I anticipated (it helped that I read it over the March Break) and I didn't completely hate it. Help me - what did you like about this book?