The Goldfinch honestly thrilled me. Its prose is so rich, its story so engrossing, and the characters so compelling that I was absorbed even when I had resolutely put the book aside for a few hours (which was never easy). The Goldfinch has been touted as a modern-day Dickensian tale, and it probably does owe a hat tip to Great Expectations.
In one of those “if only I’d turned right instead of left” split seconds, pre-adolescent Theo Decker becomes a motherless and impoverished boy. Devastated by his mother’s death, burdened by an impulsive act which will haunt him for years, and unwanted by anyone who can offer love and care, his life for the next decade is a series of bad options and even worse choices. Theo lives in a haze, his narrow world peopled by grifters and schemers, and a jittery, fast-talking Ukrainian sidekick who nearly steals the show. There are a few exceptions, most notably Pippa, an equally-damaged young girl who becomes Theo’s true north during his darkest hours, and Hobie, an avuncular furniture restorer who provides Theo with a home, career, and sense of family. Alas, in the second half of this nearly 800 page novel, we discover Theo is more complicated than we thought. The reader spends much of the second half wondering how much farther he will fall and if he will choose (and be able) to make the long climb back up.
This is a rich, dense and beautifully written novel – filled with long ruminative passages about friendship, love, art, and the pain of learning how to accept ourselves for the frail scraps of humanity we often are. It is also funny and endearing, with a dust mop of a dog that will steal your heart, and a painting of a small yellow bird that cries to be freed. If you love a good long read, with lots of twists and turns and a cast of fascinating characters, this is your book.