What happens when a needle of a good book gets lost in the haystack? I’ll tell you in today’s Five Minute Books.
I’m Garrett Robinson, independent author of the Realm Keepers series. Welcome to Five Minute Books, the show where I promise to tell you everything you need to know about popular books in five minutes or less.
This week is bestseller week, and I had to jump seven spots down the bestseller list to find a fiction title I hadn’t already reviewed. The book was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
As always, this show will be spoiler free.
I’m sorry to say that this was the first book on Five Minute Books that I had to abandon. I just couldn’t finish it.
Apparently I’m not the only one who had problems: the book only has a 3.8 out of five star rating on Amazon, which, for Amazon, is nothing to write home about.
Even Divergent, of which you’ll remember I was NOT a fan, has a 4.6 out of five star rating on Amazon.
However, as always, your mileage may vary. This book has won a Pulitzer Prize in fiction, and no less than Stephen F***ing King wrote a glowing review about it in the New York Times. So, you know, take what I say with a grain of salt.
Let’s briefly go over the plot. The story is about a boy named Theo Decker, born and raised in New York.
His father is an alcoholic who abandons him very young, leaving him with a wonderful, artistic mother who loves him and struggles to make ends meet to give him a good life.
Theo’s mother is killed in a terrorist attack on the Metropolitan museum. They weren’t even supposed to be there, but they were on their way to a school meeting as Theo had recently been suspended. This leads Theo to blame himself for his mother’s death.
By the way, that’s not a spoiler because it’s pretty much the first thing that happens in the book. You know, a hundred and fifty pages in.
In escaping from the wreckage of the museum, Theo, nearly delirious from the explosion, takes an invaluable painting called “The Goldfinch” from the rubble.
The novel tells the story of the next ten years of Theo’s life and the diverse cast of characters he interacts with.
These include Hobie, the kindly old furniture restorer who takes pity on him, Pippa, the young redheaded girl he’s madly in love with, and Boris, Theo’s best friend in adolescence.
All major moments in his life hinge around the painting he inadvertently stole and thereafter keeps secret.
From when his father reappears to complicate his life, to when he gets older and moves back to New York, to paraphrase Nat King Cole, the painting is the thing.
So this sounds good, right? Well, here’s the thing: this book is DENSE and LONG, in my opinion, about two or three times longer than it needed to be.
The print version of the book is 850 pages long, but the bare bones of the story could have been told in about 150 pages.
Reading the prose in this book felt, to me at least, like sifting through a mountain of lead streaked with gold veins. There is REALLY GOOD WRITING in this book, beautiful turns of phrase and elegant wordsmithery, if you will.
But, and again, this is my opinion, it’s buried in overwritten paragraphs that are heavy and laborious, verging on tedious.
While at times the book pulled me through on strength of prose, other times it was just a slog.
And lest you think I just don’t like good long-form prose, that’s not the case at all. I can read Dickens all day and night. But this book made Dickens look like Hemingway.
And I know what you’re thinking, “Garrett, who the hell are you to disagree with the literary opinion of Stephen King and the Pulitzer Prize…um…people? Committee?
I’m no one. I’m just an author and a reader, and after I’d read four hundred pages that felt like a thousand, I had to abandon this book.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the film Wonder Boys (if you haven’t, you really should) but while I was reading The Goldfinch I couldn’t help thinking about it.
Near the end of the film, Katie Holmes has a monologue about Michael Douglas’ overwritten literary novel, describing how he went into so much boring detail about inconsequential things, that neither author nor reader had any room to breathe.
In summary, I give The Goldfinch two out of five stars.
If you like dense, wordy, rambling prose streaked with occasional moments of sheer literary brilliance, you might enjoy it. Otherwise you’ll probably find it hard to get through.
Thank you for watching Five Minute Books. If you want to read The Goldfinch for yourself and rant at me about how wrong I am, you can do so by clicking on the cover below, which will take you to the Amazon bookstore via an affiliate link that helps fund the show.
Make sure to subscribe to the channel in the video above to see future reviews and other book-related goodness every day of the week, and I’ll see you next time.