The Goldfinch, By Donna Tartt


Tartt, D. (2013). The goldfinch. Boston, MA: Little Brown & Co.

Paperbook $18.00, Hardcover $30.00, Kindle $7.50, Audible $23.95 32 hours, 784 pages

ISBN: 978-0316055437

Author’s Website and Interviews:

Online Reviews:

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Annotation: After the tragic death of his mother, Theo Decker is left an orphan with nothing but the stolen painting to comfort him. 

Summary: After the tragic death of his mother at the hands of a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, thirteen year old Theo Decker’s life is turned upside down by a series of events triggered by the attack. On the day of the explosion, Theo befriends an elderly man named Welty Blackwell who before dying in the ruble, gives Theo a gold ring and appears to point at the painting of The Golfinch hanging on the wall as if to suggest Theo should take it for safe keeping. Theo steals the painting in his panicked and confused state unknowing how these events will alter the course of his life. Alone and orphaned due to his mother’s death and his father’s abandonment years prior, Theo is taken in my the Barbours, an affluent family who takes him in as one of their own. Months later Theo’s father, Larry resurfaces with his new girlfriend Xandra to bring Theo back to Las Vegas to live with them. Alone in a new place with nothing but his painting to comfort him and sustain his mother’s memory, Theo befriends Boris and embarks on a friendship that will lead him into the dark side of the art world where not even the vast amount of drugs and alcohol Theo consumes will help him to escape the fate the painting has created for him.

Evaluation: The Goldfinch is beautifully written and has a very lyrical quality to it. The characters of Theo, Boris, and Hobie are well developed, layered, and complex. The author recounts their stories of loss, love, and memories in a haunting and vivid way. Although the story is rich and intricately written, the sheer length of the book is the main drawback. At almost 800 pages, I felt like the story could have easily cut out 100+ pages as some of the scenes drug on without really advancing the storyline or characters. I felt many of the interactions between characters were somewhat repetitive but was able to look past this due to the quality of the writing and its ability to draw the reader into the story. I listen to the audio book while I read along and really enjoyed David Pittu’s narration. I thought the tone of his voice and the inflections used enhanced the listening experience. Since the book is so dense and complex I found it difficult to just listen as I found myself not able to grasp names and places fully so I began reading along which helped. Although I enjoyed the audio book, there were times I found the pacing extremely slow and felt I could have read the book faster on my own. I thought the book translated really well to audio as there are so many vivid scenes in the book that the narration seemed to bring them to life.

Genre: Literary Fiction (Psychological fiction)

Appeal Factors: Character-driven, leisurely paced, atmospheric, haunting, melancholy, compelling, lyrical, and richly detailed

Read-alike Titles and Authors:

  • The World to Come, by Dara Horn
  • The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
  • The Good Father, by Diana Chamberlain

Awards: 2014 ALA Notable Books-Fiction, 2013 Booklist Editor’s Choice-Best Fiction Books, 2013 New York Times Notable Books-Fiction and Poetry, Pulitzer Prize¬† for Fiction

Booktalk Ideas:

  • Let the audience in on a secret about one of the characters but don’t reveal it entirely, keep them hanging on and wanting to know more. For example, a secret about Theo and his feelings for Pipa, or Theo’s possession of the painting, or Theo’s dads true intentions when his son returns with him to Las Vegas.

Book Discussion Questions:

  1. What role if any did Boris play in helping Theo deal with his grief? Do you think he was a bad influence on Theo? If so, how?
  2. What is the significance of art throughout the book? How does it shape and/or alter the course of Theo’s life?
  3. How are Theo and the goldfinch similar? Do you feel like Theo is chained to his past unable to move on from the memories of his mother and father?
  4. What did you make of Mrs. Barbour’s relationship with Theo? Did you find her actions genuine?

I had been wanting to read this book for quite some time but hesitated due to its length at almost 800 pages. However, after learning that it was a story about loss, survival, and coming of age I was curious to see how the story and character development would progress over the course of the book and whether the length of the book would detract from the story at all.