My Review of The Goldfinch

Goldfinch

I just finished reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The literati and readers all over are divided over whether this is a good book or not. Here’s an insightful article about that:  http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2014/07/goldfinch-donna-tartt-literary-criticism#

And here are my thoughts on the matter:

Did I enjoy the book? Yes. I was hooked from the beginning and found myself feverishly reading at the end to discover the outcome of the story. I think that’s a pretty good sign.

Was it long? Yes, at 755 pages, it was one of the bigger books I’ve read this year, and I’m glad I read it as an e-book instead of hauling it around everywhere.

Did it drag at times. Yes, but ultimately I was thrilled at all the different places (physical and emotional) that the author brought me to. I thought she captured New York beautifully.

Is she a good writer? Definitively yes. Though I didn’t enjoy the free association types of passages, there were some spectacular phrases that deserve praise.

So yes I’m pro-Goldfinch. 

Some of my favorite lines (that you might not want to read if you’re like me and like to go into books/movies totally blind-folded):

Things would have turned out better if she had lived. As it was, she died when I was a kid; and though everything that’s happened to me since then is thoroughly my own fault, still when I lost her I lost sight of any landmark that might have led me someplace happier, to some more populated or congenial life.
 
It was a small picture, the smallest in the exhibition, and the simplest: a yellow finch, against a plain, pale ground, chained to a perch by its twig of an ankle.
 
It was a direct and matter-of-fact little creature, with nothing sentimental about it; and something about the neat, compact way it tucked down inside itself – its brightness, its alert watchful expression – made me think of pictures I’d seen of my mother when she was small: a dark-capped finch with steady eyes.
 
How was it possible to miss someone as much as I missed my mother? I missed her so much I wanted to die: a hard, physical longing, like a craving for air underwater. Lying awake, I tried to recall all my best memories of her- to freeze her in my mind so I wouldn’t forget her- but instead of birthdays and happy times I kept remembering things like how a few days before she was killed she’d stopped me halfway out the door to pick a thread off my school jacket.
 
The other section of Honors English was reading Great Expectations. Mine was reading Walden; and I hid myself in the coolness and silence of the book, a refuge from the sheet-metal glare of the desert. During the morning break (where we were rounded up and made to go outside, in a chain-fenced yard near the vending machines), I stood in the shadiest corner I could find with my mass-market paperback, and with a red pencil, went through and underlined a lot of particularly bracing sentences: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” “A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.” What would Thoreau have made of Las Vegas: its lights and rackets, its trash and daydreams, its projections and hollow facades?
 
Quickly I slid it out, and almost immediately its glow enveloped me, something almost musical, an internal sweetness that was inexplicable beyond a deep, blood-rocking harmony of rightness, the way your heart beat slow and sure when you were with a person you felt safe with and loved. A power, a shine, came off it, a freshness like the morning light in my old bedroom in New York which was serene yet exhilarating a light that rendered everything sharp-edged and yet more tender and lovely than it actually was, and lovelier still because it was part of the past, and irretrievable: wallpaper glowing, the old Rand McNally globe in half-shadow.
 
The painting had made me feel less mortal, less ordinary. It was support and vindication; it was sustenance and sum. It was the keystone that had held the whole cathedral up. And it was awful to learn, by having it so suddenly vanish from under me, that all my adult life I’d been privately sustained by that great, hidden, savage joy: the conviction that my whole life was balanced atop a secret that might at any moment blow it apart.
 
To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it, look very hard at what was close to hand and make it stand in for the whole; but ever since the painting had vanished from under me I’d felt drowned and extinguished by vastness- not just the predictable vastness of time, and space, but the impassable distances between people even when they were within arm’s reach of each other, and with a swell of vertigo I thought of all the places I’d been and all the places I hadn’t, a world lost and vast and unknowable, dingy maze of cities and alleyways, far-drifting ash and hostile immensities, connections missed, things lost and never found, and my painting swept away on that powerful current and drifting out there somewhere: a tiny fragment of spirit, faint spark bobbing on a dark sea.
 
Because I don’t care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here’s the truth: life is catastrophe. The basic fact of existence- of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends and whatever else we do – is catastrophe. Forget all this ridiculous “Our Town” nonsense everyone talks: the miracle of a newborn babe, the joy of one simple blossom, Life You are Too wonderful To Grasp, &c. For me…better never born, than born into this cesspool. Sinkhole of hospital beds, coffins, and broken hearts. No release, no appeal, no “do-overs”
 
And just as music is the space between notes, just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of color across the sky- so the space where I exist, and want to keep existing, and to be quite frank I hope I die in, is exactly this middle distance: where despair struck pure otherness and created something sublime.

And I feel I have something to say to you, my non-existent reader, and I feel I should say it as urgently as if I were standing in the room with you. That life- whatever else it is- is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping our eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.

 

 

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