Join in “The Goldfinch” Debate

I’ll admit it straight off – I loved The Goldfinch.  I had that wonderful, rare feeling when you read a final sentence and close a book, letting yourself linger for as long as possible in the author’s world.  I had a thought I’ve rarely had —  I realized that the book had changed me for the better.  I came away with such a message of hope, and I vowed right then and there to write Donna Tartt and tell her how much her words meant to me.

Vicki Doudera here, reporting on events that happened  back in March.  We were visiting our oldest son in St. Croix, and I read the final sentences of The Goldfinch on an incredibly beautiful and remote beach. I told my daughter that she needed to read it as soon as she could, and, as soon as we were back in Camden, I lent it to my mother so that she could be similarly impressed.

Except she wasn’t. Mom was lukewarm about the book, absolutely hating the whole middle section when Theo was living with his father in a haze of drugs.  My daughter started the book once she finished her first year of college, but she thinks it drags and has yet to finish it. And guess what?  She is not alone. Lo and behold there are a whole passel of critics claiming The Goldfinch is childish, poorly written, and contrived.

Back in April, The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I felt vindicated, agreeing totally with the judges that it’s a book that “stimulates the mind and touches the heart.” But now I have to wonder – who’s really right? Those who love it, like me and our own Stephen King, or those who find it lacking?

My latest issue of Vanity Fair has a provocative article weighing in on the controversy, available on line here. The story raises the BIG question of what makes art “art.”  As interesting as the article is, even more compelling are the comments at the end. It’s amazing how varied they are, how divisive the book really is.

Did you read The Goldfinch? And what did you think? Is it Pulitzer-worthy? Did you wish you had written it? And — would you read it again?

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17 Responses to Join in “The Goldfinch” Debate

  1. Ann Morrissey says:

    Good Morning. If you believe the St Francis comment (Give me a boy until they are six, and they are mine forever) then there is much to explain about Theo. How could a boy raised by such a fine mother turn out so badly? I am with your mother on the whole middle section, — it was disgraceful! But with that said, the last 15 pages raised very important questions and I wish Donna Tartt all the success in the world. Ann Morrissey

    • I know what you mean, Ann, but I don’t exactly agree. Yes, the middle part was painful but I felt it was inevitable given Theo’s latchkey status and age (the time when risky behaviors are so compelling to teens.) It was his dark forest, metaphorically, although I agree that it wasn’t easy to read, and maybe especially painful for those of us who have kids of our own.

  2. Lea Wait says:

    I enjoyed The Goldfinch, Vicki — Donna Tartt can really write! But I did think it was longer than it needed to be, and although she managed to pull all the plat strands together at the end, some of that I felt was contrived. Bottom line: I preferred some of her other books … but felt she’d made a genuine attempt to write “the great American novel” — and her book is definitely worth reading.

    • Lea — thanks for weighing in. I agree on the “Great American Novel” for sure. Personally I found it much more powerful than Empire Falls, although that was a great book as well.

      Curious if you’ve read Tartt’s “The Little Friend” ?? I did, and thought it was a rambling wreck. Have not read “The Secret History” and know that’s the one I will probably love.

  3. Michele says:

    I read The Goldfinch on St John and couldn’t put it down. I love Theo and that scene in the museum is one which stays with me. I really felt maternal toward him the entire book and was grateful when Hobey entered his life. The section in Vegas lingered a little too long for me, but was illuminating. The last 20 pages were unnecessary with too much telling because Tartt had already drawn the lessons. But all in all, I think The Goldfinch is a masterpiece and the debate is the proof of it.

  4. Lea Wait says:

    I loved The Secret History … couldn’t get into The Little Friend, although I keep thinking I should try it again. Tartt has an enormous palette … sometimes I think her plots get off-center a bit.

  5. Lil Gluckstern says:

    I’m just a reader, and I have to say I read the book and couldn’t wait for it to be over. It could have been my mood at the time, but I thought it was way too long. Editing would have been helpful. Also the end reads like a psychological report, and I’ve read too many of them-it’s my business. I think most of the reading public is sophisticated enough to get the psychological significance of his childhood experience without being led by the hand. But she did get a Pulitzer, so the right people liked it. And good for her.

  6. Colleen Newcomb says:

    I totally got caught up in the story and thoroughly enjoyed the book and the complex characters

  7. Hi, I am also a reader, rather a writer, but after finishing this most impactful book, I was inspired to write a few thoughts down so I would not forget them.

    First, I wondered at what point does a person stop simply being a product of their past, and become the creator of their present, and the director of their future?

    The protagonist remains a victim for the entire book until the point at the end of the story when he goes on his journey to make amends for his nefarious business dealings.

    This book makes a reader question the concepts of good and evil, right and wrong and explores moral ambiguity. It also delved deep into the nature of happiness. Theo sees beauty in objects rather than emotions or actions. He is drawn to tragedy and finds no joy in life. He suffers such horrible inertia, that he does not even consider suicide, until the painting is stollen the second time and he is trapped in Amsterdam with no passport.

    This is one of the those books that is hard to say “I liked it” or “its my favorite” but I am so glad I read it. The writing was amazing, the plot was darkly plausible and the characters very real. This is a world I know nothing about, from the collector side and the drug scene side and yet it all felt very real. What a movie this would make. I feel like I stretched my brain, by reading this book. Its not for everyone, its not exactly entertaining, but wow, it was amazing. Vicki, thanks for putting this out for discussion!

    • Lynda, you bring up so many great points. I didn’t think about Theo’s being drawn to objects rather than emotions. How do you explain his love for Pippa? Does he objectify her? (maybe…) I do think it was PTSD writ large, happening at a time in someone’s life when, because he had no other loving role models, he was really and truly scarred.

      I have to say I LOVED the portrayal of the wealthy family that he lived with. The way the mother acted when young, and then older — so fascinating. Really I found so many of the characters to be very well developed. Makes me miss our book club!

      • I agree on all points and i do miss book group. This one would have made for a great discussion. I followed this one up with The Fault is in Our Stars. Wonderful book, well written. So many books, so little time

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