The Pulitzer Prize committee and I don’t always agree on what the best book of the year is, but I remember hearing rave reviews of The Goldfinch back in 2015. However, I didn’t pick the book up until Fall 2019, after I finally read The Secret History and discovered it truly is one of the best books I’ve ever read. So I gave all 771 pages of The Goldfinch, in hardback, a try. It was good! Too long? Probably? Did I like every page? No, but I liked it. And then, I saw the movie, featuring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman and it was also good! Too long? Probably? But good. That’s what I’ll call this essay on The Goldfinch “Too Long But Good”
Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by a longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into a wealthy and insular art community.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love — and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention. From the streets of New York to the dark corners of the art underworld, this “soaring masterpiece” examines the devastating impact of grief and the ruthless machinations of fate (Ron Charles, Washington Post).
Now, the book is huge. But it’s worthy of the Pulitzer, in my opinion. It’s exceedingly well-written, even if I didn’t love the whole “Russian mafia” part of the story, and I liked the ending quite a bit. Now, the movie was good too! The trailer really captures its heart, and I feel like no movie can live up to that, but this one tried! A great cast, a good script, and it kept pretty close to the source material.
I left the movie feeling like “Wow, what a book. What a movie.” Donna Tartt takes on SO MUCH in her writing, and with anyone else it might be too much, but her writing truly is exquisite and I would let her write just about anything. No wonder it takes her a decade per book, right? It’s hard to capture her language on film, but I feel like it gets the general thematic elements right and that’s more than enough for me.
The Goldfinch is out on DVD now and will probably stream somewhere eventually. Fingers crossed.