Were the members of the Pulitzer Board on acid when they decided that The Goldfinch would get the crown? And didn’t they notice its editor must have been on strike—or smoking weed while relaxing under a tree? Who knows, they all might have been inspired by Theo, the novel’s narrator, a poster boy for addiction who swallows pills like M&M’s.
And, actually, this novel is pretty much like a box of chocolates. You begin with the few good ones and then...
When I picked up the work and was informed that Donna Tartt spent ten years writing it, I imagined a Flaubertian author seeking “le mot juste.” And if there are moments when the work clicks, when psychological tension happens, when dream/nightmare and reality blend, there is also that moment when I wonder if the ten-year-writing story is not some publicity stunt. Some brainwashing, as some of the writing here is totally loose, adolescent and careless. My suspicions arise somewhat at the museum scene, when all collapses, including Tartt’s prose which drags on and on and on...And on...
But it begins so well! Is that howTartt got the Pulitzer—on the first 50 pages of reading? It is undeniable that she’s a capable writer. But at some point, something happened. She either went into some kind of depression or into some substance dependency. To the point where you stop caring for the narrator, for he ends up deconstructing himself, becoming (un-becoming) a character with no character.
As for the characters that truly deserve care and attention, Tartt turns her back to them. Say, Andy, Theo’s genius little friend who seems as emotionally estranged from his own family as he is from his own emotions; Andy is such an intriguing character. What does Tartt do? Without revealing the plot, I’ll just say that she does next to nothing with that. There are points of reference here and there, and now and then, but these are but tiny grains of sugar in very troubled water. And why does she insist on Boris, a horrible, incoherent character, more animal than human, more rat than dog in his invasiveness? I honestly detest this personage, who manages to be at once ugly, boring, confusing, and cliched. The only way I would like him is if he were sculpted by pastry chefs on the Halloween Wars show on the Cooking Channel.
Are there interesting characters? Mrs Barbour is one of the better ones. Mom could have been fabulous, but is not there long enough. Hobbie and Pippa are just fairy tale decorations. Had Tatt concentrated her efforts on Andy, Mom, Mrs Barbour and done something with Hobbie, she might have deserved that Pulitzer. Instead, she makes us spend time with the wrong people. Instead, she adds others—bim, bam, boom!— who pop out like mushrooms—fungus—after a two-week rain. Instead, she lets her verbal self indulgence get the better of herself. (Again, where was the editor? Snoring in a corner?) As for the flooding, pseudo-philosophical verbosity of the end, it is a total, total disaster.
In the end, The Goldfinch relentlessly kills what it could have been. It’s a novel that tries to keep going despite the fact that soon in the plot it slices its own veins.