The Goldfinch isn’t for everyone, and I can see why so many called it a slog. The most frequent criticism seems to be that it’s long, and that relatively little happens, which is only true if you don’t consider emotional journeys a valid form of storytelling.
If I had to guess, I’d say that the thing that really turns people off is the very thing that makes this story so compelling. The book is broken into two parts. In the first, a young boy in New York City is visited by a tragedy, which sets into motion a remarkable and intricate web of events.
If the boy has any faults, we forgive them instantly, chalking them up to the effects of a harrowing childhood and the recklessness of youth. In short, the boy is not only likable, but lovable. Tartt paints a psychological portrait with compassion and remarkable skill, and places that portrait in the center of a fascinating cast of characters.
The second half is, quite literally, a different story. As the same boy now navigates the exceedingly complex and distressing world as a young man, the faults we forgave him in his childhood are now full-blown pathologies. Instead of comforting us with the story of a boy who overcame the odds to become a well-adjusted, emotionally healthy adult, Tartt reminds us that we are shaped by our past—for better or worse—and that not everyone escapes their demons unscathed.
The story Tartt tells, then, is one of life itself, with all its chaos, false starts, and haunting regrets.
And all this is to say nothing of the clever plot, driven by but never completely subservient to the pathologies that make the character so real, and so hard to forgive.
In other words, this is a book of life, and I can’t wait to re-read it.