Friday, January 30, 2015

Review: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt 
Fiction, E-book

The Goldfinch was actually one of last year's books but I just got it back from the library to finish off the last two chapters. I read this one for my May '14 mom group's book club. My previous experience with a Pulitzer Prize novel wasn't great (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, if you're curious) so my expectations for Goldfinch weren't terribly high. Thankfully, it was pretty good, although it didn't live up to all of the hype.

The main character, Theo, loses his mother in an explosion when the museum they are visiting comes under a terrorist attack. Theo is twelve at the time and the novel follows his progress into adulthood as he copes with the loss in various destructive ways. The title refers to a painting in the museum that Theo takes with him and that eventually causes him a great deal of trouble.

I sympathized with Theo at first and was somewhat reminded of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which I really liked. But as Theo kept making bad decision after bad decision, I had a hard time maintaining that sympathy. For much of the book, I didn't really like Theo or the majority of other characters. It boggled my mind that none of the adults in his life saw what was going on with him, especially when the action moved to Las Vegas. The book was difficult to get into at first and kind of uneven. Several parts were overwritten and I just wanted to skim my way through while other parts were written really well.

The one character that stood out the most and has stuck with me is Boris. I can't say I liked him either, not entirely, but he was complex and morally ambiguous, which made him interesting. Towards the end, he has a conversation with Theo that resonated with me and that ties in nicely with the book I'm reading right now (Ender's Game). I've chopped it up a bit but kept the relevant parts: 

"[T]he world is much stranger than we know or can say. And I know how you think, or how you like to think, but maybe this is one instance where you can't boil down to pure 'good' or pure 'bad' like you always want to do --? Like, your two different piles? Bad over here, good over here? Maybe not quite so simple."
 "Because, what I am trying to say -- what I was thinking in the car from Antwerp last night -- good doesn't always follow from good, nor bad deeds result from bad, does it? Even the wise and good cannot see the end of all actions...."
 "What if -- is more complicated than that? What if maybe opposite is true as well? Because, if bad can sometimes come from good actions --? where does it ever say, anywhere, that only bad can come from bad actions? Maybe sometimes -- the wrong way is the right way? You can take the wrong path and it still comes out where you want to be? Or, spin it another way, sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still turns out to be right?"
"What if all your actions and choices, good or bad, make no difference to God? What if the pattern is pre-set? No no -- hang on -- this is a question worth struggling with. What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can't get there any other way?"
I love that last bit especially, the "What if we can't get there any other way?" bit. We all judge people, right? It's so easy to do. Sometimes, we write people off as jerks when we only know one side of their story. But what if there's another side? What if they can't get there any other way? 

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