chestnut book blog

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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The Goldfinch

I’m absolutely gripped by Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I haven’t quite finished it, but felt the urge to tear myself away from it to update you. I know I’m a little late to this one. The gorgeous hardback version has been sat on my bedside table for approximately a year, too big to carry on the tube and too big to start properly in just a weekend. However, we had a long weekend in Wales last week and I took it with me. Since then, this huge brick of a book has gone everywhere with me (because, needless to say I could not finish it in three days), provoking sniggers at work and cries of “get yourself a kindle!”

From the first page, I was sucked into this remarkable story. The blurb on the back describes it as ‘Dickensian’ and I think that is not far from the mark. A whole cacophony of characters, from Park Avenue princesses to Bronx-born Ukrainian gangsters, stumble through the chapters, all wretched, lying and lonely. Boris in particular is one of the most vividly painted characters I have read about in a long time; a modern-day Artful Dodger, drug-addict, best friend, criminal and hopeless romantic. He is also gut-wrenchingly wise: ‘Sure – I did plenty of stupid things. Stupider than you! But me…I was trying to have fun and be happy. You wanted to be dead. It’s different.” Boris is still a bit of an enigma at the point I have reached, wise-cracking his way through a series of dodgy deals and betrayals, but I am desperate to know what happens to him.

And now to our hero; my heart is breaking for Theo Decker. Making all the wrong choices (so much so that I was literally reading through my fingers at points, unwilling to watch the car-crash, but compelled at the same time) but just a grieving, angry, sad, motherless boy who is starved of care, affection and love. There is a point in the book, after Theo has moved to Las Vegas, when he ruminates that his mother dying has meant that the only person in the world who loved him has gone. This touched a particular nerve with me. I used to work for a children’s charity and on my first day there, I was speaking to one of my new colleagues about the charity’s recent policy work and research. She told me that her most recent survey had shown that 90% of the children whom the charity worked with had never felt loved. That has never left me. I am not a mother, so I speak from an uninformed position, but it seems to me that the greatest gift you can give children is love. From love comes self-respect, self-worth, compassion and kindness and you desperately need all of those things to be a happy and decent human being. The Goldfinch is giving me many of these pauses for thought, a chance to dwell on or uncover my own opinions about loss, grief, survival, identity and fate.

So far, The Goldfinch is wonderful and incredible moving. I have about one-quarter of it to go. I hope it doesn’t let me down now…*

*I’ll be back to update this review when I have finished…at the rate I am going, probably at 3am tonight!

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