This novel being all the rage; widely reviewed; and resulting in a Pulitzer for Donna Tartt leaves me little to discuss. Accordingly, this review will be short and personal.
A follower of this blog wrote me and said she decided not to read the book partly because of the hype. Some reviewers have said that in breadth of adventure it is comparable to “Great Expectations”. I will avoid this comparison, but given the hype I did have great expectations. I was expecting a literary tour-de-force. It is not. It is pulp fiction.
There is nothing wrong with pulp fiction and this is a very readable book. I don’t think it is an award-winning novel. There is some scholarship about woodworking, the art world and art dealers, and drugs. The locales where the action takes place, New York City, Las Vegas and Amsterdam are described. The parallels between dysfunctional low and high society are articulated. There is the emptiness of lives scarred and battered since childhood. The inherited addictions. Love lost, never to be regained.
The characters are not unique. The prose is commercial. The ending disappointing. When the painting was on exhibit for 3 months at The Frick it drew huge crowds. The curators had expected Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, also on loan from the Netherlands, to be the draw. In a city that knows Trumps, Vermeer got trumped. Ms. Tartt’s first acknowledgment is to a Dutch publisher. Her earlier work “Secret History” did very well in the Netherlands, so commercially a Dutch connection certainly would appeal to European marketers.
For me the best line in the book was borrowed from Picasso: “Bad artists copy, good artists steal”. The same may be true for writers.
I would not discourage anyone from reading “The Goldfinch”. At 771 pages it makes a good beach read, if you don’t burn easily.