Monday, January 12, 2015

The Goldfinch

 The Goldfinch is an epic, coming-of-age tale that would be an ideal read if you're looking for something big to sink your teeth into this winter. The novel tells the story of Theo Decker, a Manhattan teenager who survives a museum bombing that kills his mother. As expected, the tragedy alters the course of his life--though not necessarily in ways that could be easily predicted.

Much has already been written about The Goldfinch, especially in regards to its Dickensian elements. It's an apt comparison, with Theo as the orphan protagonist who is thrust against various elements ranging from wealth and privilege to seedy criminal types as he struggles to find his place in the world. And, like in the best of Dickens, Theo isn't portrayed as a hapless victim of these forces, but rather as a complex character whose own choices--both good and bad--play just as big a part in his life as the circumstances he's dealt in life. 

One of the highlights of the novel for me was they way in which Tartt portrays Theo's mother. Although she's only an active character for a very small portion of the book, she is a recurring touchstone for Theo, especially in the first two-thirds or so of the novel. After her death, we see her through Theo's eyes as he remembers moments that they had together. We even get to see his memory of her memories, as he recounts stories that she told him of her Midwestern childhood. She's portrayed so vividly and is such an overarching force in the story that, about halfway through the book, I found that I was actually missing her, wishing that she would come back as a character in the present action of the novel. Tartt evokes in the reader the same sense of loss that she describes Theo as feeling for his mother. 

In addition to this vivid portrayal of Theo's mother, the entire world of the book is realistically imagined down to the most minute detail (another Dickensian trait). Even offhand remarks thrown out by minor characters feel spot-on, making it seem like Tartt has actually lived through what she writes about. Out of the entire 800+ pages, there was only one detail that proved to be a stumbling block for me--the accent of Theo's friend Boris. A Russian by way of Ukraine, Boris grows up moving around the world as his father takes mining jobs in different cities. He's described as speaking English with tinges of both a Russian and an Australian accent. No matter how hard I tried to imagine this, I could not get this combination of accents. Half the time I heard his accent as Russian, the other half as Australian.

Have you read The Goldfinch yet? 

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