A still from the 2019 movie version of the book directed by John Crowley with Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Can a woman write a fictional biography about a teenage boy? Well, yes and no. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch hits some of the right notes such as youthful dishonesty, amoral behaviour, deceitfulness and lies plus a fondness for alcohol and drugs in Theodore Decker’s retrospective narration.
Strangely she skirts around teenage boys and their obsession with sex and all things smutty, but is explicit about getting high on drugs and vodka and being difficult as testosterone levels climax in this coming of age novel.
At more than 800 pages the story goes into huge amounts of detail on the antiques trade with some insightful sections on life in New York and Las Vegas. And not the life you might expect. Excellent on fractious relationships and dysfunctional American families along with forensic introspections from Theo on his other’s failings.
But like Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens to whom her plots have been likened there are plot holes which leave you doubting the story including the initial theft of the painting The Goldfinch by Theo. It’s in places a page turner but is so long you wonder if Theo (or Potter as his friend Boris calls him) will move on to the next section of his life. Critics dubbed in children’s novel which it is not. Stripped to the basic plot it’s a slow burn thriller born in a broken family and set in the art world with a confused protagonist narrator who seeks redemption from a childhood tragedy.
So much to admire in a convoluted and extended plot which satisfies eventually – but it’s a long journey to get there.
Harry Mottram
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was published in 2013. It won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is available in paperback from Cheddar library and all good bookshops.
• A movie was released of the book in 2019 directed by John Crowley with Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman.