Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch
Happy Thanksgiving! Today is my very, very favorite holiday! Food, family, relaxation, and reflection. It simply doesn't get better. I hope you are enjoying the day as much as I plan to.

I have had this book On Reserve for what feels like forever. Pretty much ever since it got all that buzz and won a little award called the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. No big deal.

By the time it got a shout out on The Good Wife, one of my favorite shows, I knew it was time to finally give it a go. That month long break from grad school I just finished, proved the perfect time to tackle this nearly 800-page tome. 

So what were my thoughts about this lauded novel? 

Well, I have some mixed feelings. There were parts I absolutely loved. The whole first part, in fact, was marvelous. It was captivating and intense and a bit magical, in the most heartbreaking way possible. 

Theo Decker, a thirteen year old boy, loses his mother in a terrorist attack on a NYC art museum. In the chaos following the attack, he takes a famous painting, The Goldfinch by Dutch painter Carel Fabritius. By the time he realizes what he comes to his senses and realize what he did in his injured haze, Theo is engulfed in a world of Child Services and uncertainty. It seems to scary to admit his mistake. So, he holds on to the priceless work of art, now assumed destroyed by the explosion in the museum. 

That's the basic premise. Of course, with a novel this long, there are quite a few twists and turns along the way. We follow Theo throughout the next couple decades or so. After spending time in Las Vegas with his gambling, addicted-to-oh-so-many-things father, his own life takes a few distressing turns. For one, he meets and befriends Boris.

Ugh. Boris. I hated this character. It's not often that I have such disdain for a character, at least not to the point that they change the way I feel about the entire book. Yet, here's Boris. A character I hated so much, whose role in the story I hated so much, whose influence upon young Theo I hated so much that it tainted the book for me. The young, largely innocent, heart-broken boy we meet in Part One is forever changed after he meets Boris. The rest of the story is impacted by the decisions Theo makes with Boris as his only friend. When Theo finally left Vegas to return to NYC, I was thrilled. I thought that would be the end of Boris. Not so. The guy is a staple character and ends up deeply involved in the story of the painting as well. I can't stand him. To me, it's his largely his character which turns a beautiful, sad story into one where the the protagonist is someone I can barely stomach at points. 

I also felt the book was very drawn out. I am not necessarily opposed to the length. After all, the later Harry Potter books rank around the same mark and A Song of Ice and Fire books surpass it. But, I feel that length depends content to match. I simply didn't feel that way here. The book is good, yes, but it could have been better at about 100-200 pages shorter. My opinion, of course. Obviously Donna Tartt and her editor would disagree. A lot of Goodreads reviews (which I always take with a grain of salt) called the book pretentious. I must admit, I can't entirely disagree with them. I don't agree, either, but I don't disagree. 

Don't get me wrong. The writing is beautiful and I recognize that the point isn't necessarily a happy story. Still, the 2013 winner, The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, certainly was not a happy story and I loved that book. I mean, loved it. It was beautiful and challenging and complex and so much more. To me, it's a Pulitzer Prize winner without a doubt. The Goldfinch just doesn't seem to rank at the same level. Ultimately, I just felt it could have been better. A high level for sure, but not among the best books I've ever read. To me, to be a Pulitzer winner, you should achieve that ranking with ease. 

Pages: 771
Date Completed: November 12, 2014

What do you think? What makes a book worthy of a Pulitzer Prize?

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