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Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is very long and very, very good

My first thought when looking at the page total for The Goldfinch was essentially 'Well, that's not gonna happen.' Because there are 706 pages in the eBook version (784 in hardback). You have to have at least a modicum of hubris to write a 700 page novel. It's not even like it's about the fall of Constantinople. No. It's just about "humans." Doing "kind of regular human things." And it doesn't help that the first chapter is one of those "Let's plunge you into a vague situation and give you almost no idea what's going on" in medias res sorts of beginnings.

...not quite as dramatic as this, though.

BUT THEN. Then you get swept up in 13-year-old Theo Decker's life and don't want to leave.

There are certain works of literary fiction that go beyond the common reading experience, and give you something you feel you yourself have lived. At the end of one particularly relentless, emotional, ruthless chapter, I sat in my chair and just exhaled "Wow..." Donna Tartt is an author who reminds you what good writing really is -- that other people might be practicing writing, and sometimes being entertaining, but truly capturing humanity and shared experience? No.

Theo Decker starts the book as a 13-year-old, and you go with him through his 20s, albeit with some major timeline skips. All the action is a result of a moment at the beginning when a bomb goes off at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, killing Theo's mother and -- through CIRCUMSTANCES -- leaving him with a 1654 Dutch painting called 'The Goldfinch.'

While I carry no love for The Goldfinch as a painting, this is incidental. What you should keep in mind while reading so you can better understand Theo and his actions are paintings you love as much as he loves his. So sit, and think 'What painting would I want to keep with me and bring out at moments when I couldn't help doing otherwise, and just sit there, loving it?' I know I have a few, but the two that spring to mind are Fisherman's Cottage, and Belated Party on Mansfield Mountain.

this is the best painting in history. do not question me.

"[I]f a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don't think, 'oh, I love this picture because it's universal,' 'I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.' That's not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It's a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.'"

So think about those paintings, read about Theo, and go with him as he moves from place to place, in what seems at first to be a tribute to the cross-country American novel, but quickly becomes something else. I find it hard to define The Goldfinch. Is it very long? Yes. Should it be read? Yes. The fact that I finished it should be a testament to this. It comes out on October 22nd, and Little, Brown was kind enough to let me review it before then. Buy it, put it on hold at your library, just read it, and then talk with me about it. Because I have Opinions on Things. (and also we need to talk about Boris)


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