Artwork by Wesley Merritt.
What could be easier than liking a book? Scores of people do it every day and yet after reading this novel twice in the last year, I find myself without a decisive answer as to whether I really liked it or not. Though my three-star rating of it on Goodreads clearly denotes that “I liked it”, this is because I feel that it succeeded their symbolic two-star option that says I thought “it was ok”. Personally, any kind of art that leaves a resounding “ok” imprinted on my soul, is the worst kind of art, as I like my art to be inspiring and emotionally stirring. Even if a work of art is determined to be a complete failure, in my opinion, it can still be something memorable through its embodiment of what simply does not work, or how talent can fail, both in the creator and in the ability of the audience to recognize what is at stake.
Quite simply what I did not like and what did not work was the novel’s entirely contrived plot that advances with anything that it can manipulate for the sake of moving forward, including some pretty one dimensional characters whose story arcs overlap all too neatly. Also, when a book attempts to take on a serious tone with regards to art, the human experience, and the nature of addiction, I can’t help but feel a little annoyed by the repeated use of pop culture metaphors, allusions, and “in-crowd” name dropping. It almost felt like the novel was trying to appeal to a younger reader because of this. There’s that and the entire Barbour family with their annoying babyish banter: Mommy’s Monet this and Daddy’s ding farm that. Really, how I am supposed to be emotionally invested in the affairs of an affluent family when their juvenile and anachronistic mannerisms inevitably define them? Though, I did have a good chuckle when Theo adopted the use of these Barbourisms.
There were some truly moving and thoughtful passages in this novel that touched on the complex nature of time, our predicament as humans, how we shape our lives through our own inner narrative, and other pointed metaphysical bursts of beauty. Not to mention what I thought was a fascinating insight into how the game of the antique industry is played. From the correct price for an item (whatever you could get someone to pay for it), to the romance of the antiquer working away in a dank and dusty garret; the fruit of their labor not for the hands of the buyer, but the hands that will be viewing their restoration in a 100 years. And hey, if you’re an art lover like myself, then what is there not to like about a book that implies that if you care for a thing enough, whether that thing is a book, a painting, or trinket, that it takes on a life of its own. That the whole point of these objects is that they have the power to connect you to a larger beauty. That is to say, your belief that the artist is speaking to you is true: This is for you. We see the world, one in the same way.
Overall, I like flirting with the idea that the novel is written less from the perspective of Donna Tartt, Pulitzer Prize winning author, but more from the voice of novice narrator, Theodore Decker. In that sense, if this is Mr. Decker’s first book, I think I liked it.
I’m posting just the one review for this entry, but it is a great one that really affected how I read The Goldfinch, the second time around:
On the Goldfinch – good audio description
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
- A story of a young boy who loses a parent in a similar manner to The Goldfinch. He also inherits an object that he obsesses over.
The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz
- Theo, please read this and always do your best.
The Idiot – by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Like Borya said “Very dark message to this book. ‘Why be good?’ Maybe sometimes – the wrong way is the right way?”
The Loser by Thomas Bernhard
- This one is for Pippa: Glenn Gould fiction… enough said.
Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton
- If you liked the backdoor dealings and details of the art world, then this just might become an essential and very entertaining read.
True Prep by Lisa Birnbach
- The Barbour’s bible. Covers everything from wardrobe to schools: pre-nursery to grade 20.