With its thousand of fans, The Goldfinch is apparently a marmite novel. I wanted to love it. I hated it.
I loved The Secret History, and like much of the world (well, a bunch of avid readers anyway) I was excited to learn that Donna Tartt had published a new novel. So much so that I bought it without reading any reviews.
That was a mistake. If I had read Constance Grady review in The Vox, I would have considered myself warned:
“It’s a hollow, thematically empty book filled with hollow, psychologically empty characters, and it suffocates under the sheer weight of its 771 pages.” Constance Grady, The Vox, September 2019
It now has tens of thousands of rave reviews on Amazon and it won the Pulitzer Prize. If only I had read The Vox instead of the Amazon reviews!
If you want Dickensian, read Dickens instead
I can’t hope to argue with all of the people who disagree with me on this one, so I’ll tackle just one oft-repeated opinion about it. Countless reviewers say it is ‘Dickensian’.
Dickensian? I wish.
Dickens is never boring. Every page of The Goldfinch is boring. Dickens pulls you into underworlds but also lifts your soul. The Goldfinch pulls you down relentlessly. It is never uplifting. Dickens is NEVER pretentious… his characters may be, but his novels are not. The Goldfinch is pretentious. Dickens’ writing is sublime. Tartts’ isn’t. I love every page of every novel Dickens ever wrote. I disliked almost every page of the Goldfinch. My life is better, and I am a better person, for reading Dickens. The Goldfinch is 32 (audio) hours of my life that I’ll never get back.
I suspect the people who say it’s Dickensian are only loosely remembering reading Dickens many years ago, and mostly remember his novels as being long. Oh yeah, and there’s the motherless boy. Yawn.
I quite liked Boris however. He’s quite interesting. Theo Decker is not.
I gave this book 2 stars rather than one because for the first 200 pages or so I was on the verge of enjoying it. After that it was pure slog and the only reason I kept with it to the end was in the hope that the glowing reviews might somehow turn out to be justified. Nope.
If you are still deciding whether to read this or not, first read the first page of Little Dorrit. You’ll see straight off why 165 years after it was first published, it’s still read and loved. Moreover, Little Dorrit is free.
Then read a few more Dickens novels. All free at Project Gutenberg.
Find The Goldfinch on Amazon and at other bookstores.