The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

...Wherein I met Theo Decker, didn't fall in love with him, and proceeded to write a blog explaining why this wasn't actually a bad thing.

Oh, and I should probably mention: //SPOILER ALERT//

I am not an English graduate, and I do not claim to have particular literary knowledge beyond a [five-year-old] A Level in English Literature and a lifelong love of books. I have never, as far as I can remember, reviewed (discussed, analysed, whatever) a book before (outside of academia) but when I finished 'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt, I found myself wanting to do just that.

Generally I am not too specific about what I like to read. I enjoy books written in a way that is reasonably easy to follow, and I like books that I find entertaining and engaging. If I find myself rereading the same lines a few times over, or if I find myself alone with time to kill and my book, and I don't immediately want to crack it open (as opposed to stare into space/check my phone/listen to music), I have no problem discarding it and moving on. Maybe as a result of this, for the most part, I seem to love every book I read, or at least, every book I bother to keep reading beyond a few chapters. Normally that golden glow of affection falls heavily onto the characters (as well as the plot, language, cover, typeface(!) etc.), but when I finished 'The Goldfinch', I realised that I really didn't like the protagonist very much at all. This was kind of surprising to me because I absolutely *loved* the book, and it's a long first person narrative, at the centre of which was a person I fundamentally didn't like, and disagreed with.

Theo Decker is thirteen when we take up his story after a short trip into present-day Amsterdam, where he reveals that his life has ended up somewhere vaguely criminal and geographically confusing (much like how 'The Secret History' opens at a time long after the events of the book). During the opening third of the book, I felt genuinely sad reading it. It made me think about how it might feel if those kinds of events happened to me, and it's just really sad. Beautifully written, wonderfully vivid, but very, very sad. I think I liked Theo at that point, but my main emotion towards him was pity. He spends a long time feeling very sad, and then a long time very drunk and high with his (hugely likeable) friend Boris. When we say goodbye to Boris for the first time, the book becomes significantly less fun. Tartt's language as we loiter around loveless homes with these sad, hungry, hungover best friends struggling keep each other afloat is absolutely mesmerising.

It's a meandering character study, and there isn't really all that much going on for several years, and then suddenly it leaps eight years into the future, which feels a bit jarring. You spend so much time with Theo as a child and adolescent that to leap right into young adulthood means you feel less connected to him (or, at least, I did). From that point the action picks up, and it becomes genuinely thrilling. There were several moments that made me audibly *gasp* on the tube while reading it, and the twists and turns of the plot are fascinating. It was wonderful to see Boris again, all grown up, and after a convoluted jaunt to Amsterdam, it was a massive relief to read that things all kind of turned out okay in the end for everyone. Everyone except Theo, that is, who after a story tainted by such tragedy comes to the conclusion that life is fundamentally flawed, a 'catastrophe'. It's an oddly trite conclusion to such an interesting, in-depth novel, and one that the novel itself encourages me to disagree with (but maybe that's the point; as I said at the outset, I'm definitely no expert).

Another thing about Theo that I liked/disliked (poor Theo, he has a very hard life and everyone's a critic!) as he got older and his life and story went on is the way that I felt like he was a reflection of our worst selves (my worst self?). He openly admits to being entirely self-absorbed, having a total lack of direction, wasting his life on nothing, and secretly feeling like he's somehow special, unlike everyone else in the world. Now, I'm not saying that I never ever think of others, don't have any plans or ambitions, have a massive drug habit and a stolen Dutch masterpiece in a lockup somewhere, but I know that I have lain awake on many occasions worrying about many of the same things as Theo, and it's really quite discomforting to see those kinds of things through someone else's eyes, when they ultimately do not find any way to get past them.

In Theo Decker, Donna Tartt has created a sort of everyman who refuses to take the well-trodden bildungsroman path through adversity to self-discovery and, instead of overcoming his difficult circumstances, seems to be consumed by them. And, well, that's a bit of a downer. Theo (and the novel as a whole) allows us really to see the darkness in the world, and it paints a bleak picture. However, in reading its illumination of the darkness, and Theo's attitude about the 'catastrophe' of life, I found myself thinking "no, actually, I think life can be pretty great, thank you very much." This novel helped me to see that through the splashes of joy to be found in the supporting characters, and the wondrous quality of the writing, which makes reading it an amazingly enjoyable experience, and I have been urging everyone to go away and read it as soon as they can.

I feel like this 'book review' has just been a silly character assassination of a teenage boy with a much worse life than me, and that's ridiculous, so please find here a real review that actually sums up my feelings about the book.

Thank you, Donna Tartt, for writing books that transport me to another world, to another person's head, for a while. You're amazing.

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