BOOK CLUB: The Goldfinch

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Thirteen-year-old Theo Decker and his mother are visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan when a terrorist’s bomb explodes killing and injuring scores of people, including Theo’s mother. A dying man entrusts Theo with a priceless painting by Carel Fabritius, circa 1654, called The Goldfinch.

The whereabouts of Theo’s father are unknown and when his grandparents are unwilling to care for him, he is placed in the care of a schoolmate’s family. This begins Theo’s odyssey. His neglectful father reappears and moves Theo to Las Vegas where his life descends into a haze of drug and alcohol abuse as he grieves for his mother and tries to cope with a sense of loss and desolation. Yet he still always guards and even adores the precious painting. Theo meets Russian teenager Boris, whose abusive father also cares little about him. Their exploits both as teens and when they meet again later as adults are the heart of the story.

Huge kudos to Sally Melton who was more than up to the task of facilitating this huge tome!  In typical Sally style, she formulated a host of questions that delivered an intense discussion. Starting with the painting itself, members were asked, “What does the painting represent in the novel? Why is art so important to the soul?”

It was noted that critics are widely divided in their reviews, some comparing this novel to Dickens’ work and others calling it infantile. Discussion reflecting on the comparison to Dickens was fast and decisive, as most members failed to see the correlation. It is interesting to note that, with over 22,300 reviews on Amazon, just 41 percent of readers gave it a five-star rating. It seems readers, as well as critics, fall into two categories: either you love the book or you dislike it immensely. Most Bookworm members fell into the dislike category. The biggest criticism was its astounding 771-page length. Many said it needed a good editor and were quick to point out what could have been deleted. Members were also surprised it received the Pulitzer Prize.

Although the story is gripping in parts and sometimes the writing is exceptional, the rampant abuse of drugs and alcohol was a disturbing feature. As the novel draws to a close, the exploits of Theo and Boris seemed particularly far-flung. The author leaves a number of loose ends perhaps laying groundwork for a sequel.

When members were asked if there was a sequel of 700 pages, would they read it? There was a resounding “No!”


About the Author

Donna Tartt was born in Mississippi in 1963. She started writing and illustrating her own books at the age of five. A voracious reader, Tartt worked in the local library as a teenager and was a devotee of Dickens. A graduate of Bennington College, Tartt is often considered a writer’s writer as she can quote entire passages of poems and novels.

The idea for The Goldfinch, which is Tartt’s third novel, began more than 20 years ago during trips to Amsterdam. On the very day The Goldfinch was published, in a striking coincidence, the Frick Collection in Manhattan opened their exhibition of Dutch masters and one of the featured paintings was none other than Fabritius’ “Goldfinch.”

A private person who eschews publicity, Tartt writes in spiral-bound notebooks with a ballpoint pen. She is unmarried, has no children, and divides her time between Manhattan and Virginia.


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