Saturday, 1 February 2014

Sister Reads | Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Book: The Goldfinch

Author: Donna Tartt

Pages: 771 pages (feels like SO MUCH MORE on the Kindle!)

Time I took to Read: About a week or so

Plot Summary: A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother, a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld. (From Goodreads) 

Summary: The plot summary, as described on Goodreads (above) is not really accurate. Theo and his mom are very close. His dad, a violent alcoholic, left them a few years ago, leaving him and his mother to struggle to make ends meet in New York. Theo is a bright and talented kid who has a scholarship to attend a posh private school in New York. The morning of the "accident" (it is a bomb blast and not an accident!), Theo and his mom were on the way to meet Theo's principal for a disciplinary hearing- Theo was caught smoking. So, it was en route to that meeting that Theo and his mom ducked into the MET for a bit and ended up in the path of a bomb.

The Goldfinch is essentially Theo's life after this horrible incident- how he copes, survives and falls apart, the people he meets, his experiences and so on. The Goldfinch also refers to the painting that Theo, in his post-bomb blast haze, picks up from the museum because it was his mom's favourite piece of art. The book also shows Theo dealing with his anxiety and guilt about stealing it and the measures he takes to conceal it.

Once Theo wakes up after the blast, the only other person who is awake and alive (but horribly injured) is an older man who gives Theo a ring and a name of an antiques store with the request that Theo take the ring to his business partner. After a few weeks, Theo makes his way there and meets Hobie, the dead man's partner. Hobie and Theo develop a kinship and so, we see how Theo feels at home in Hobie's house, much more than he does at the Barbours' place. Theo is also attracted to Pippa, the dead man's niece, who happens to live with Hobie.

The book follows Theo's life in the immediate aftermath of the blast- he goes to live at his friend's place to avoid being placed in foster care. The Barbours are a posh yet essentially kind family that takes Theo in and let's him stay with them for months. Just as Theo is getting settled into the rhythm of life at the Barbours', his father shows up along with his girlfriend and carts Theo off to Las Vegas.

In Las Vegas, begins Theo's dalliance with drugs, thanks to his friendship with an equally dysfunctional kid called Boris. The book, then on, basically, follows Theo's life with an eight-year leap someone in between...

What I Liked: I liked how this book was written. Donna Tartt is a lovely author and this book is just such a pleasure to read. I enjoyed reading the depictions of Theo's life at the Barbours, how challenging it was to fit in and not stick out, his interactions with Hobie and Pippa and also a bit about his life in Las Vegas. The events in this book are not happiness and sunshine, so being able to write beautifully about sadness, dysfunction, anxiety and, essentially someone's life spiraling out of control is an art form in itself.

What I Didn't Like: Here is where I am so conflicted about this book. It is beautifully written, it is poignant and all of that, but there is just so much heaviness and anxiety in this book. Now, I am not one to shy away from reading heavy and/or sad books, but in this case, I felt an increasing anger with Theo. I mean, come on! You were a bright kid on a scholarship, your mom had worked her ass off to get you a 529 Plan for you education, but instead of focusing on the future, here you are, in Vegas, getting wasted and high with a delinquent (Boris). The repetitive scenes depicting Theo and Boris' shenanigans in Vegas were D-U-L-L and reported in nauseating detail. We get it- the kid is lost and getting high, please stop reporting it 200 times! Sheesh! God!

The book made me stop empathizing with or rooting for Theo after a certain point. Initially, you feel for this young, vulnerable, scarred kid who has nowhere to go and no one to turn to, but after a point, you see how self-destructive he is, in spite of knowing better and so, all the empathy goes right out of the window.

There were way too many repetitive scenes and themes, which were not required and which, in my opinion, did not add anything to the narrative.

Would You Like It?: You might like it if you don't mind reading detailed depictions of someone throwing their life away (I am being serious, not glib when I say that). This is a well-written book and if you can read about someone without necessarily empathizing with them, then this is a good book to pick up.

Rating: 3/5 

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