To Save From Fire: Review of “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

1654 painting by Carel Fabritius
1654 painting by Carel Fabritius

My true review of this book would simply be a list of quotes, all that impacted me deeply, sunk into my bones and made me feel.

But, a review gets to the heart of the matter: is it worth reading?

A short answer would be yes. But that doesn’t explain why, and doesn’t make you desperate to read it. However, to explain why this book is worth it, takes so much time and thought.

My time and thought has been stolen away by the book itself. But perhaps that’s a good place to start.

This book has a plot that is long and complicated–you are accessing directly the thoughts and actions of Theo Decker, the main character. The book, in many ways, reads like a journal, without the format of a journal entry. Thus, it is probably best described as a stream of conciousness narrative. This means that yes, there are times where it seems to drag on–but the beauty of Tartt’s use of a stream of conciousness in first person, is that you know Theo more than most readers know any main character. You understand what he likes, dislikes, despises. You see him change from one emotion to the next in an intricate, and intimate way. And, perhaps my favourite part, you see him mature–or not. The changes in Theo are clearly visible; Unlike some characters in books where they don’t seem to have changed that much, Theo is very much a different person at the end of the book.

For one thing, the story spans ages: it starts when Theo is thirteen and ends somewhere around his 26th year. This helps the change–he has matured, he has changed. Of course he has. He’s grown up.  But Tartt details this growth in a way that makes it seem so realistic you are waiting to meet Theo somewhere on the street. He is very much a breathing character–he isn’t confined just to the page he is on. However, due to the circumstances of Theo’s life, something has to be said also about the beauty in which Tartt conveys emotions that are hard to understand unless you’ve experienced them: childhood grief, the grief of losing a parent. Addiction, the black wave of depression that comes along with it. The confusion and ecstasy of teenage years. Angst. PTSD. On and on. While the plot does stretch and linger, it is because there is a depth of character and emotion being conveyed that cannot be done in a rushed format. We have to see years of Theo’s life to see how he deals with the circumstances life gave him.

However, this full submerges you into the story, and your sense of time, place, and even your own thoughts vanish. You start reading at 10 PM and don’t stop until 1 AM. You get up in the morning and you have to fight the urge to read, not even getting out of bed.

But the plot is not the only thing that does this: her characters are people, and because they are so human, you want to keep reading just to get to know them better. Theo is the main example, but he is not the only one.

Boris, a very important friend of Theo’s is comic relief but he reminds you of someone you know–we all have that friend. The drinker. The sleaze. But the one that makes you laugh, and can hold you while you cry. The foreigner. The one who is and always will be raw, and will always be your best friend.

Hobie. Quiet, wise, playful, strong. Parental in every way. The person who you’d want to be your parent if anything happened to your real parents, or, heck, if you could pick another set of parents.

Tartt doesn’t just stop at visuals for her characters, and this is why they are completely and utterly real: she presents their scent, the sound and tones of their voices, the way they walk, the way their touch or embrace or playful shove feels.

Tart uses every sense you have, and then some. She creates a sixth sense because she pushes every boundary your mind might have. So plot, character, merge together to form one world, not just pages, not just ink. You are living in Theo’s world.

And the very symbol of The Goldfinch–a painting by Fabritius, seen above–is jaw dropping and shocking and lovely and warm. But I cannot go into too much detail on that, or else I’ll spoil the book. I will just say that her use of symbolism is also on a superior level.

Of course, it is her very words that do all this, and that is the last thing to touch upon.

it is hard to describe her use of imagery or figurative language without giving you examples. She uses a high vocabulary mixed with slang and cursing, to match Theo’s voice, but she also focuses on detail. She doesn’t just say that light is streaming into the window: she shows you. But beyond just a simple showing, she details it. The colour of the light, the brightness, the angle, the spot it is shining on once it enters the room–the way it makes characters feel.

She does this with everything, from the physical world around the characters to the characters themselves. And so this use of language builds up the world that is so shocking and wonderful.

This novel is so rich that it takes time to fully appreciate its seven hundred and seventy one pages. That time, though–those 771 pages–are completely worth it.

Reading this book will change you in one way or another.

It is the book I would scald my hands on to save it from the fire, a message to be found within its very pages–what it means to love something so much, you’d risk everything for it.

I hope this book–and others–makes you take risks, makes you challenge what it means to love.

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