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‘The Goldfinch’ – total immersion

After reading the reviews of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch at The Los Angeles Review of Books and The New York Times, I dare not try to compete with the experts by reviewing the book here.

GoldfinchI liked the book a lot, especially the puzzled-together plot, the symbolism of the painting, and the carefully written prose. I’ll confess that I almost stopped reading the book when I reached the one-hundred page point because I was so thoroughly exasperated with protagonist Theo Decker’s attitude and behavior.

Since I had several review books waiting for reviews, I stopped reading The Goldfinch for several weeks. When I returned to it, I had to remind myself that Decker’s behavior was realistic for a thirteen year old who had just lost his mother in a terrorist explosion. He was suffering a form of post traumatic stress syndrome, and the genius of Tartt is that her Proust-like prose immerses the reader in it.

Tartt has returned to the morbid themes she wrote about so well in her earlier novels. She does it even better this time, though total immersion in such themes isn’t always easy for a reader, especially those of us who have a worldview that contrasts so greatly with Decker’s that we really don’t enjoy being inside his head.

The language is worth the trip. Some reader reviewers think the novel is too long and that Decker is an unsympathetic and reactive character. In an era where books are getting shorter and attention spans are getting shorter, I understand these comments. Early on in the book, I thought it was over-written because I was drowning in Decker’s thoughts. I’ll stipulate that it’s difficult to find sympathy, much less, empathy for the protagonist. But feeling that isn’t a requirement in a novel.

With Tartt’s typical “verbose” approach, Decker, and especially his friend, the amoral Boris, are more real than real. Yet, their reality doesn’t intersect smoothly with the reality most of us experience. This is a slipstream approach and she handles it well. The painting anchors the book in amazing ways again and again and again.

For better or worse, I always felt like I was there while reading about Theo Decker. The prose is exceptional even though you may end up knowing more about Theo Decker than you can bear to know.


Kindle Version

Kindle Version

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of five contemporary fantasy novels, including “The Sailor.”

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  1. Your informal review struck a chord with me. I’m not an ever-so experienced writer like Donna Tartt, but my main character in Forging the Blade is not likeable through the first hundred pages of the book either. Like Theo, she has her reasons. However, my editor doesn’t like her and she points out that since YA is totally character driven, something needs to change.
    So, I figured that if the reader got more inside her head like I am, he would find more to like. So right now I’m rewriting and walking the fine line between telling the reader about Molly and telling him “more about (her than he) can bear to know.”

    January 9, 2014
    • I’ve also heard that Y/A authors are expected to present characters the readers can identify with. In fact, I suppose more protagonists in fiction are likeable at one level or another even though they may be flawed in various ways. I hope your editor likes your revisions!


      January 9, 2014

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