“Only here’s what I really, really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted–? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight toward a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?…If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away? Stop your ears with wax? Ignore all the perverse glory your heart is screaming at you? Set yourself on the course that will lead you dutifully towards the norm, reasonable hours and regular medical check-ups, stable relationships and steady career advancement the New York Times and brunch on Sunday, all with the promise of being somehow a better person? Or…is it better to throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?” -The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, is a contraversial piece of literature. Many critics are scornful of the book’s success, saying that it isn’t well written, or that it is too long. I agree that there are some odd plot choices, and her female characters could be a little more dimensional, but overall this has become a book that I can’t get out of my head. Without spoilers, here are a few reasons why I enjoyed this read, and highly recommend it.
Part of the reason I like this story so much, is that we do spend an absurd amount of time in the main character, Theo’s, head. Theo isn’t a very likable character, but he does grow on you. I relate to the darkness inside of him, and to his observations of the world and his own character. Due to the things he goes through, Theo spends a lot of time feeling guilty and isolated, self medicating, wandering aimlessly, feeling indifferent or apathetic about the world around him. If you have never had feelings like this, I can completely understand why you would grow to hate this book. It reminds me of when I read Paint it Black, by Janet Fitch. The main character in that book had suffered a great loss, and her grief was so intense that it became annoying to me. I ended up hating the book with a passion, but I have never experienced a similar loss. Maybe it takes a certain level of darkness, or fascination with darkness to appreciate Theo’s journey.
His friend Boris is equally brilliant. Boris is a force of nature, the type of person who focuses on the tangible, because fuck the past, there is only the now and the next. You wouldn’t think someone like that could be so perceptive, but he will surprise you. At one point he observes Theo’s perspective on the world and comments, “Well—I have to say I personally have never drawn such a sharp line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as you. For me: that line is often false. The two are never disconnected. One can’t exist without the other. As long as I am acting out of love, I feel I am doing best I know how. But you—wrapped up in judgment, always regretting the past, cursing yourself, blaming yourself, asking ‘what if,’ ‘what if.’ ‘Life is cruel.’ ‘I wish I had died instead of.’ Well—think about this. What if all your actions and choices, good or bad, make no difference to God? What if the pattern is pre-set? No no—hang on—this is a question worth struggling with. What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can’t get there any other way?” And the academy award for best supporting actor goes to….
The Goldfinch is full of unlikeable characters, but unlikeable does not mean simple. I once knew a Xandra (you’ll see!) in real life, and it’s almost like she was copy and pasted onto the page and put under a microscope. Even if you have a hard time wrapping your head around some of the plot, I highly recommend suspending disbelief and giving this book a shot. Anyone with a little bit of darkness inside them will surely get something out of it.