PPRL: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (winner, 2014)

(Simplifying my approach to PPRL reviews. Just gonna write up my thoughts. No more synopses, excerpts, or vocab. Those bits felt too much like homework.)


I didn't know what I was getting myself into with The Goldfinch. Mason recommended it to me (well, "I'd be curious what you think of it" was what he actually said), and I plowed through the unrelentingly graphic opening scene without putting the iPad down once. Ah, I thought. So that's a taste of what that might be like. Horrific to know. But I wasn't actually hooked - like, claws-deep hooked - until Theo got to Vegas and I met Boris. By the end I found myself almost wishing Boris had been the protagonist.

The Goldfinch is an imperfect book, as I'm the last and least important to point out. I don't know if editing styles have changed dramatically unbeknownst to me, but repetition of an unusual, five-dollar word twice in one paragraph seems like something that shouldn't occur in Pulitzer-winning novels. And I agree with the bit of criticism quoted in the Vanity Fair article about some of the characters being rather stock, rather predictable and cliche. However, some are characters whose company I really didn't want to quit. I could have handled much, much more of Hobie and Pippa - and much less of Xandra and Kitsey.

Worst of all though, I loathed Theo by the end of the story. He was an inept, foolish, self-pitying, selfish mess whose failed attempt at suicide left me feeling nothing. As did the entire ending, which droned on and on and on to a miserable conclusion.

However, wow can Tartt tease out a theme* and keep a story moving. Lots of dialogue and fast-paced action kept me utterly intrigued (and Terence, too; he'd ask for plot updates every night) up until she lost me on the confusing, belabored, and unnecessarily complicated backstory about Horst et al. (Didn't follow. Didn't care.) Shortcomings aside, I really did find the writing strikingly beautiful at times. I highlighted many passages to revisit, per Steven Pinker's excellent advice. I do wish the novel finished more strongly - or at least on a more positive note - but I can't resent the place Tartt arrived at too badly, since I quite enjoyed the majority of the ride.



Are you a college student who's been assigned a term paper on The Goldfinch? Did you not pay attention during class discussions, and are you now stuck for a topic? Perhaps you were fucking around on social media instead, because you are young and immature and careless with other people's money.

Well hey slacker, it's your lucky day. Below are some of my disjointed, undeveloped thoughts on the theme of provenance in The Goldfinch. Obviously I'm biased towards my own genius, but I think correctly nurtured they could make for a pretty decent essay. So feel free. I originally wrote them for my readers, but since it occurs to me that I can't stop them from being used elsehow, you have my blessing - provided you use these ideas as a starting point only. Don't copy, don't even paraphrase. (You do NOT want plagiarism on your school record, really takes the shine off an already useless English degree.)

In fact, don't actually read what I wrote below. Just give yourself the prompt: What role does provenance play in The Goldfinch? Could the concept be applied to people, too? 

Seriously, stop reading now and go back to Snapchatting or whatever your kind does these days. Godspeed, net-sourcing coed!


One of the foremost considerations in the acquisition and sale of art and antiques is provenance, i.e. where, and in whose hands, something has been. Determining provenance is part of the authentication process; in order to establish that, say, a painting legitimately hails from the 17th century, it helps to know who's been looking after it. Great pain is taken to track these records of ownership for the same reason great pain is taken in the care of their subjects - fine art and genuine antiques are precious. Case in point: virtually every character in the novel down to the Eurotrash thugs knows how valuable The Goldfinch is, and spares nothing to keep it safe and sound.

Now, contrast this with Theo's "provenance". Where he's been, where he goes, where he ends up. The degree to which his would-be caretakers go to avoid "acquiring" him. His grandparents want nothing to do with him, and his father is at best reluctant to accept the role himself. In what ways does Theo's journey from home to home and place to place mirror that of the painting? How is it different?

To extend the metaphor, what constitutes Theo's "verso"? What are the emotional markings he collects over the years? His mother's love? His father's indifference? Hobie's influence and friendship? Compare the nicks and imperfections of The Goldfinch with Theo's psychological scars and wounds.