I realize I’m a little late to the party on this one, but now that I’m all caught up…let’s talk about The Goldfinch.
Parts of this story will stick with me for a long time, but if you asked me which parts I’d be hard pressed to tell you. The characters, particularly Theo Decker, are great…but I didn’t really fall in love with them. The plot is good, but I wouldn’t call it remarkable (and in any case, this isn’t really a plot-driven story). The writing itself is excellent, if long-winded (I will be honest: I found the last ten pages or so tremendously frustrating, and basically skimmed them–the denouement really overstays its welcome on this one.)
So what is it?
I think this quote has been attributed to a few sources, but I’m fairly certain Madeleine L’Engle said: “I am still every age that I have been.” I’ve felt this myself; I think we all have: certainly, we’ve changed, but looking back, I don’t feel as if I turned into a different person. I can still draw a line from middle school me to high school me to college me to present me, and it seems more or less consistent. I feel all the ages I’ve ever been. And I’ve never read a book that so artfully captured that feeling as The Goldfinch.
Theo is a child, and horrible things happen to him. He grows up, the vast majority of the adults in his life fail him utterly, and he makes poor choices. Those choices compound, and lead us to strange places–bad places. And yet…he’s still twelve-year-old Theo. It’s not that we’re sympathetic (though we are): his childhood doesn’t excuse anything he’s done. But we appreciate the entirety of him; the fact that we follow him so closely through each event of his life allows us to see Theo at 12, at 15, in his twenties…and while these are all different people, they FEEL the same. We see Theo, at the end of the story, as every age he’s ever been. And that’s damn good writing.
More than that, though, the story is about inevitability–and here’s where we need to talk about it’s ponderous, over-lengthy ending, which seems to exist only to hammer home the point that, frankly, I’d already gotten: that you just won’t know until it’s all over whether your choices were really good or really bad, because no choice exists in isolation; every decision is simply a link in a chain of events that stretches back to before you were born and will continue on long after you’re gone.
Could this story have been shorter? Yes, yes, YES. Is it worth reading? Absolutely, though I suggest you set aside some time. Is it a literary masterpiece? Eh, I’m probably not qualified to say. Did I enjoy it? Very, very much. And the best recommendation I suppose I can give is: yes, I would read it again.