Book Notes: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

The really sad thing about Tartt is that she can write. There are some very strong pages in this endless novel. She writes in a poignant and sincere way about the hopelessness of the post-bubble landscapes. She could write valuable stuff about the suffering of the economic downturn. 

But there is a problem that keeps tripping Tartt up and preventing her from developing into a passable author. She is obsessed with writing in a voice of a young man who is an alcoholic and / or a drug addict and who goes on for hundreds of extremely repetitive pages, narrating how he gets drunk and high. 

Tartt’s fixation on describing alcoholic stupor in interminable detail betrays some sort of a personal issue with booze and drugs that the writer unleashes onto her readers instead of onto a therapist. Readers end up paying to witness the spectacle of a traumatized writer obsessively baring her trauma in a way that is unlikely to bring her any true relief. Tartt has made a lucrative career out of her dysfunction, which tells us a lot about the readers who feed her popularity. 

I’m not similarly afflicted, which is why I will not be giving this writer another chance. 


9 thoughts on “Book Notes: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch”

  1. I wondered whether to read this novel (in search for a good modern Bildungsroman), but the plot description on the back cover bored me too much.

    Am glad I have not missed anything good, since judging by your post the novel isn’t the best one to write papers on.

    Booze and drugs bore me too.


    1. There is zero Bildung involved, by the way. In the novel’s universe, personal development does not exist.

      There is also this weird “Russian” character who is also a total alcoholic and keeps boozing it up with the protagonist for hundreds of boring pages.


  2. It’s too bad – The Little Friend is BY FAR her best work and gets no absolutely attention. It’s from the point of view of a precocious young girl growing up in the South in the 70s, and is almost Faulkneresque in its treatment of poverty and racism. I can’t blame her for going back to the themes that granted her such success and acclaim, though. I’m hoping maybe she’ll alternate between rich-people-doing-endless-cocaine bestseller fodder and more serious literary work.


    1. And another thing I like about this book: it manages the difficult task of rendering a child-heroine without devolving into saccharine sentimentality. I really wish more people would read it, though it’s undeniably less flashy than The Goldfinch or The Secret History.


  3. I’m glad I’m not the only one who hated that book. I thought it started so well but became insufferable as soon as it moved away from New York. In other news, here’s another insufferable article about the ‘plight’ of women in academia: . I was so sad to see that a PhD student wrote this; apparently the next generation is as intent on maintaining the same boring, self-pitying nonsense as the current one.


    1. Ridiculous! I’m the opposite of “nice and nurturing”, and students love me. I get fantastic evaluations, always, although my teaching persona is distant and severe. And the last problem I have in the world is getting people to recognize me as a serious intellectual. Even though I’m into frilly skirts, 50s dresses, makeup and huge hair. You talk to me for 2 minutes, you know who I am. It’s really not that hard.

      I think the reason student love me is because I have extensive knowledge of the material.


      1. Yes me too – I totally agree and I have the exact same experience. Students are not all simpering idiots and women are not all pathetic victims, despite what these types of articles want us to believe.


  4. My students always say they enjoy my classes because I know the material inside and out, am clearly intensely engaged with the subject and always push them to develop their own thinking. Of course there are always one or two who don’t want to learn, but that is their problem and they are a minority (at least in my experience).


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