On the subject of… The Goldfinch

“And as much as I’d like to believe there’s a truth beyond illusion, I’ve come to believe that there’s no truth beyond illusion. Because, between ‘reality’ on the one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there’s a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic.”

I’m torn.

Option A: this book does not deserve this ending. There’s a lot of good and wise stuff in the final pages of The Goldfinch, and the book hasn’t earned it at all. They’re kinda not the same book.

Option B: No really good and successful novel has to explain what it’s about in its final page to the extent that The Goldfinch does: if you have to pour out all this wisdom for me in a 10 page reflection at the very end, then you clearly don’t trust that your story’s done it for you – and in this case you’d be right.

le sigh

I didn’t hate The Goldfinch. I don’t even know that I’d say I was underwhelmed by it

[‘Can you ever just be whelmed?’ / ‘I think you can in Europe.’]

I was just. A bit, not quite meh, but more, ‘Oh, well, that was a book. Read that.’

It’s incredibly atmospheric, all of it – but especially the opening. Reading it you feel like you’re in all of the places – Europe less so than America, but that’s also connected to Theo’s level of awareness of his surroundings as he narrates. Donna Tartt has this way of writing about places that makes them timeless – although sadly when she brings in very date-able items like iPods, I find myself popping out of the world she’s created. The characters are all alive – mostly awful, but that’s not a problem, I don’t find that my enjoyment of a novel is predicated on the likeability of the characters. The denouement is suitably dramatic.

But in the end, we get an epiphany and a meditation on Theo’s love for this painting, and how that is a good and noble thing – which is not so much a culmination of everything that’s gone before as a negation of it. All we’ve see is a Theo’s obsession with the painting – and his fear of it: of having it and of losing it. Obsession and addiction isn’t love, kids. Now, it might be that Theo is the ultimate in unreliable narrators, despite his claim that this is all based on his diary notes, and the fact that his final reflection is self-justifying bobbins is Tartt’s ultimate bait and switch as a novelist. That would be fun, but I don’t buy it.

And so: Don’t hate it. Don’t love it. Wasn’t inspired by it.

If she’d just written the book that the end of the book suggests she was aiming to write, golly, wouldn’t it have been wonderful?

 

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