The Goldfinch SPOILERS ALLOWED

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The Goldfinch SPOILERS ALLOWED

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1nohrt4me2
Jan 27, 2014, 5:23pm

Anybody want to take on The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt? I was bugged by the epilogue, which strikes me as superfluous, but CitizenJoyce offered her take.

Donna Tartt takes 700 pages to write a compelling, tortuous story about art and loss, then, just in case we don't get the point, she writes a lengthy epilogue explaining the Woody Allen defense, "The heart wants what the heart wants." That's a pretty indefensible statement (as it was when Woody said it), which is why, I guess, she feels the need to spend so much time working it out. I think that was a brilliant ploy. Most of us have had some dealings with the kind of person who is willing to rationalize forever, we may even have done it ourselves. All the excuses sound so reasonable. I think she was taking a chance with the epilogue, but for me, it worked as excellent character development.

2Citizenjoyce
Jan 27, 2014, 6:34pm

The character development was for Boris. He's so unlikeable yet does so many things we want to like him for and so easily leads Theo into areas that are completely against his best interests, then congratulates him on being forsighted. He's a very seductive character, ala Woody Allen. I think the epilogue shows both a sympoathetic view of his reasoning and a very understated view of its faults. What do you think.

3nohrt4me2
Jan 29, 2014, 10:33am

Yes, Boris is both seductive and horrifying. His perfidy in stealing the painting is prefigured even by some of the stuff he does as a kid. Like Theo, he is a traumatized boy with a horrible father. But he hardens early and loses his moral sense and any real ability to love.

Certainly Boris's final explanation of how he stole and used the painting and then got it back reveals him as a full-fledged sociopath.

As for the final section, in which Theo rambles on about what he's learned, I confess I didn't see it as saying much about Boris, and I'm going to have to re-read it in light of what you say above.

So more to come later!

4Citizenjoyce
Editado: Jan 29, 2014, 5:55pm

Well, I hadn't thought that, but Boris is a sociopath, isn't he? And of course sociopaths wouldn't be very effective if they weren't likable, and very good at supplying reasonable explanations for everything they do.

5nohrt4me2
Jan 29, 2014, 8:25pm

There are so many pairings in the book that the author seems to want us to notice: Theo and the painting; Theo and Boris; Theo's father and Boris's; Theo's father and Mr. Barbour; Mr. Barbour and Hobie; Pippa and Kitsey; Hobie and Welty; Mrs. Barbour and Theo's mother.

It really takes a long time to think about all this, but the Theo-Boris pair made me wonder about the nature of sociopathy. Is Boris a born sociopath? Or does he become one through his choices? Could Theo become one? Or is his slow redemption at the end inevitable because of the kind of person he is.

Most of the characters seem to develop as they are acted on by external forces. The exceptions are Pippa and Hobie, the most stable (and in some ways the most clueless) characters.

Sorry for the randomness of these comments. Lots going on in this book.

6Citizenjoyce
Jan 30, 2014, 3:41pm

Yeah, the nature-nurture causation of sociopathy remains a question, but Boris certainly had enough nurture to turn him that way. Theo, no - confused, impulsive and easily lead, but I don't think sociopathy would ever be in his future.
Pippa and Hobie are just about the only likable characters in the book, and I don't think they're clueless. Pippa loves Theo, but she knows enough about her remaining PTSD to know he would only drag her down if she tried to make a life with him. That's a pretty big clue. And dear old Hobie is just too moral to be involved with the cut throat people who surround him.
There is lots going on with this book, and the more I think about it, the better it gets.

7nancyewhite
Maio 2, 2014, 4:38pm

I thought Mrs. Barbour was, if not exactly likeable, moving. For me, she has proven to be the character I think about as I get distance from the book. There is something about great grief blowing the lid off of societal constraints and interest in appearances that moves me

8Citizenjoyce
Maio 2, 2014, 6:53pm

>7 nancyewhite: She's certainly not an easy person to love, but she's a very complex character who is loved by others and does her best to do right by them.

9nohrt4me2
Maio 3, 2014, 6:57pm

Yes, I think one of the charms of this book is how well-rounded the characters are. Nobody's wholly good or bad, and Mrs. Barbour's arc is very touching.

10sturlington
Maio 7, 2014, 8:26am

It is nice to read these reactions for some additional perspective. I was not blown away by the book, because I think I was beaten down by its sheer length, but it is one that sticks with you as you get some distance on it. I have a feeling my impression of it will rise over time, but unfortunately, I do not see it as one that I will return to and reread, again due to the length. I can see myself rereading The Secret History, though, which I have already read twice.

I did love the character development in The Goldfinch, which I think was masterfully done. Even people who seem like caricatures on the surface, like Boris, have nuances, which is why they come to feel like very real people by the end, people who exist somewhere in the world. For me, though, the character I most disliked was Theo, who I felt was characterized mainly by his inability to take action and to direct his own life. The only real actions he seemed to take were stealing the painting and later, leaving Las Vegas. Otherwise, he seemed so passive, which I think is why Boris was so easily able to manipulate him.

Thoughts?

11nohrt4me2
Maio 7, 2014, 11:03am

sturlington, Theo's been damaged and traumatized, but yes, his indecision grated on me a bit, but it's exactly those traits that allows him to knock around and meet up with all those other great characters, no?

He does try to get himself together at the end.

Agree exactly with you; not sure I'd re-read this, but these characters really do stick in your head. It might be one of those books you can keep by your bedside and open to any page and just read a few chapters occasionally.

I do that with a couple of novels.

12Citizenjoyce
Maio 7, 2014, 5:46pm

To me Theo is like Richard Papen in The Secret History but better realized. It seems to be Tartt's m o to write a central passive character around whom all the other outrageous characters can orbit. I liked everything about The Goldfinch better than The Secret History, but I like seeing how she grew from one to the other.

13nohrt4me2
Maio 7, 2014, 6:11pm

Joyce, I think that's well put--a central passive character around which the others orbit. Perhaps that's the reason she's compared to Dickens.

14vwinsloe
Editado: Jul 2, 2014, 3:52pm

I finished last night. I found Donna Tartt's writing style a bit off putting at first because she indulges in so much detail. She is not wordy, and every word has a purpose, but I lose my patience quite quickly when writers state the obvious and leave nothing to the reader's imagination. I got used to the writing quickly, and was drawn in to her description of Manhattan. The locations and descriptions, along with the style, reminded me greatly of 1960s New Yorker Magazine stories, maybe even J.D. Salinger stories.

I think that this is a book about character (not just the characters), and it is also a book about redemption. Like The Secret History, The Goldfinch revolves around a very bad choice made by a character, and how that decision shapes and haunts him. Anyone who has ever made a life changing bad decision can relate to this book, so its appeal has got to be fairly universal.

I'm not certain that Boris is an anti-social personality, because he did have the capacity to empathize with other people. He never hurt others (physically.) He was very kind to the dog Popchyk and the dog loved him. All that being said, Boris was clearly a teenage alcoholic. He himself had suffered terrible physical abuse, in a addition to neglect and abandonment. His life on the streets in Eastern Europe was more difficult than anything endured by Theo. If I had to sum up Boris's character, I would say that he was the ultimate survivor.

The "stream of consciousness" ending was perfectly fitting. Don't we all when we experience life changing events try to construct a rationale to fit those events into our personal history, to make sense out of them? I don't think that Boris and Theo's "the heart wants what the heart wants" is an excuse or a justification. I think that Boris showed Theo how to survive. I think that "the heart wants what the heart wants" is a statement of facts that we must accept if we are ever going to move on. You can't move on with endless guilt and self blame. Theo did the right thing in the end. Boris, in his way, came through as well. For me, the moral is that good can come out of bad things. Redemption is possible if you leave yourself open to it.

15Citizenjoyce
Jul 2, 2014, 4:28pm

I love dogs, so I do tend to give dog lovers the benefit of the doubt, but then Hitler loved dogs too, so that's not really a sign of mental or moral health. I loved the scene in The Sopranos when someone tells Dr. Melfi about the new studies on psychopaths that show them to be very sentimental - lovers of dogs and babies - but willing to do whatever they think they need to do to get what they want. Boris was indeed the ultimate survivor, but in surviving I don't think he retained many morals. He's a good, intelligent, creative person to have on your side, but I don't think you could ever count on his remaining on your side if something better came along.

16nohrt4me2
Jul 2, 2014, 5:36pm

Maybe Boris is more amoral--but isn't that sociopathy?

This book is still in my head after several months, and that's a clue that it has a good deal of power.

You can't move on with endless guilt and self blame.

True, but can you move on without at least a little? Aren't guilt and self-blame simply another way to look at self-knowledge without which real repentance and change are impossible?

If I had to sum up Boris's character, I would say that he was the ultimate survivor.

Yes, he is. What his long-term survival chances are, though, I don't know. I sort of think Boris is the tragedy here; I can see Theo taking care of him until he implodes.

17nohrt4me2
Jul 2, 2014, 5:36pm

Anybody want to make anything of the fact that in both of Tartt's novels, her main characters are males?

18Citizenjoyce
Jul 2, 2014, 5:54pm

>17 nohrt4me2: I would say it's just a way to sell books, but maybe she doesn't want a female central character who is so easily manipulated. The female main characters in The Secret Agent and The Goldfinch seem to posses both self knowledge and the ultimate ability for self directed action.

19vwinsloe
Jul 2, 2014, 7:44pm

>15 Citizenjoyce: & >16 nohrt4me2:. Perhaps I was being too clinical. It is my understanding that the hallmarks of sociopaths, aka people with antisocial personality disorder, are anger with violent outbursts, physical violence and animal abuse in addition to drug and alcohol abuse and criminal activity. Boris is a criminal, but I don't think that he is a "sociopath."

I think that Tartt goes a long way to make the reader question whether Boris is truly immoral. She continually stresses that although he steals, he is generous, and treats everything more or less as communal property. Boris never seems to get angry, to the contrary, he seems to accept people's flaws and makes excuses for them. He is never physically violent. When he goes to work for Bobo Silver, he characterizes himself as a gopher for the boss, and not muscle. So he is a drug dealer, which could be argued is a victimless crime, or at most, supplying victims with the poison that they voluntarily crave.

Boris tried to get Theo to stay in Las Vegas, ostensibly to return the painting. Why did he show up at Theo's door years later if not to make amends? Why did he show up again at the end to give him 2 million dollars and his passport back? I cut Boris a lot of slack. With his upbringing, I don't think that he had many role models or good choices.

For me, the truly immoral, sociopathic character in the novel was Tom Cable. A petty thief and a user of people, who turned away from Theo immediately after his mother's death. Also contrast the conman Reeves(sp?) and his partner who swindled little old ladies out of their antiques.

Another interesting theme for me was how all of the fathers in the book utterly failed their children. Not just Theo's and Boris's fathers, but also Mr. Barbour, in part due to his mental illness. It seems that the best parents in the book were people who were not biological parents. Welty, Hobie and perhaps Mrs. Barbour and Mr. Decker, not for their own children but for Theo and Boris.

20nohrt4me2
Jul 2, 2014, 8:37pm

I'm using the term "sociopath" loosely--as someone who is uninterested in following conventional rules. Maybe he's a little like the Artful Dodger, someone we sympathize with, but can't fully trust. (I do hate to bring in Dickensian comparisons because it makes it sound as if Tartt is merely copying Great White Male literature.)

Another interesting theme for me was how all of the fathers in the book utterly failed their children. ... It seems that the best parents in the book were people who were not biological parents. Welty, Hobie and perhaps Mrs. Barbour and Mr. Decker, not for their own children but for Theo and Boris.

Yes, that is interesting. But the story isn't possible if Theo has a stable parent to protect and guide him.

Mrs. Barbour is one of my favorites. I think it's very difficult to draw a character like that who has very little warmth--at least outwardly--but a great sense of decency and courage. At least that's how she seems to me in her first incarnation. She doesn't try to "mother" Theo emotionally--perhaps she's constantly on guard given her husband's emotional state--but she builds a kind of shield around Theo.

I think the reason these characters stick in your head is because they invite the reader to create backstories for them. I'd read a book about Mrs. Barbour.

21vwinsloe
Editado: Jul 3, 2014, 9:36am

>20 nohrt4me2:. I'd read a book about Mrs. Barbour, too. To answer your earlier question >17 nohrt4me2:, I wonder whether Tartt has male central characters because it would be too personal and emotionally difficult for her to write about women in such situations? I don't know whether all of her books deal with bad, life changing decisions the way that The Goldfinch and The Secret History do, but I expect that that theme comes from somewhere in her personal experience. And, unfortunately, stories about girls in the situation in which Theo and Boris were in as boys, would entail a lot of sordid sexual exploitation. In our "blame the victim" misogynistic culture, I doubt that such characters would be viewed quite so sympathetically by most readers. (And from what I've seen of user reviews, many readers were barely sympathetic to Boris and Theo.)

>16 nohrt4me2:. Regarding guilt and self-blame, I think that Theo's guilt is primarily about his mother's death, and that is what he cannot move past. In some ways, it is irrational guilt (only at the museum because he was smoking with Tom Cable and got suspended from school), but I think that children blame themselves for all kinds of things (parents' divorce comes to mind), and when a person feels guilty, he feels like a bad person, and when he believes that he is a bad person, I think that his behavior becomes that of a bad person. You are right that REMORSE is necessary to move on from a bad act, as well as making amends in some way. I think this is what Boris shows Theo how to do, and not be dragged down emotionally forever. For me, there is also a sense that perhaps he can overcome his guilt about his mother's death as well, if good truly can come out of bad. There is a hint that if Theo is no longer dragged down by his guilt, then perhaps he and Pippa could be happy together. Maybe that is the ultimate good that could come from the bad? There is hope, I think.

and, >16 nohrt4me2:, yes, Boris's life will undoubtedly come to a bad end. But maybe not inside his own head? Somehow, I don't think that he will be emotionally broken or defeated by his inevitable fate. Accepting, perhaps. If he doesn't meet a violent end, his liver will fail, and I think he knows that.

22nancyewhite
Jul 3, 2014, 9:32am

I find that Mrs. Barbour stays with me most of all. She feels very real to me. There is generosity, protection and decency in how she takes in and treats Theo even if it isn't warm in the traditional maternal sense. She begins the book emotionally closed inside herself, probably by societal constraint. Later she becomes liberated by grief. I find her fascinating and moving. I'd love to read a book about her.

23nohrt4me2
Jul 3, 2014, 10:06am

Nancyewhite, what great comments about everything!

Had not thought about how the nature of Theo's and Boris's life would have much more complicated as a girl alone. But now you outline it, it makes perfect sense.

I don't know how much Boris is aware of his own flaws. He has develops an ever accruing hard shell as the novel progresses. I have not doubt he tells himself he is a very clever fixer. But as a teenager, he seems prone to crying jags and crushes on girls. How much of his own vulnerability will be able to penetrate the alcohol and drugs is hard to guage.

Perhaps that's why there's only one girl in The Secret History, who seems to be sexually used or abused by her brother, and maybe two other characters.

24nohrt4me2
Jul 3, 2014, 10:09am

And there is a brief mention of sexuality between Boris and Theo when they are staying at Theo's father's place, pretty much unsupervised.

This struck me not as abusive, but the kind of comfort two youngsters might offer each other when they'd been drinking and were left pretty much to fend for themselves in a chaotic adult world.

Both of them seem heterosexually oriented, but I think that brief physical bond may be important to the intensity of their friendship.

25vwinsloe
Jul 3, 2014, 11:13am

>24 nohrt4me2:. I agree. Tartt handled that well, didn't she? In the absence of parents, they were both grasping for a deep emotional connection to someone else who cared about them. I got the feeling (whether or not it was backed up by some actual language in the novel) that Boris may have had to engage in sexual favors for payment from men when he was on the street in eastern Europe. That is certainly not uncommon for boys in his situation. It is what one does to survive.

26Citizenjoyce
Jul 3, 2014, 2:56pm

I found this from 2010 by Kelly McAleer PsyD talking about the idfference between psychopaths and sociopaths. First she says essentially that psychopaths are "born that way" but sociopaths can become so because of environmental factors (and Boris had those factors in spades). She ends by saying
The last main difference between psychopathy and sociopathy is in the presentation. The psychopath is callous, yet charming. He or she will con and manipulate others with charisma and intimidation and can effectively mimic feelings to present as “normal” to society. The psychopath is organized in their criminal thinking and behavior, and can maintain good emotional and physical control, displaying little to no emotional or autonomic arousal, even under situations that most would find threatening or horrifying. The psychopath is keenly aware that what he or she is doing is wrong, but does not care.

Conversely, the sociopath is less organized in his or her demeanor; he or she might be nervous, easily agitated, and quick to display anger. A sociopath is more likely to spontaneously act out in inappropriate ways without thinking through the consequences. Compared to the psychopath, the sociopath will not be able to move through society committing callous crimes as easily, as they can form attachments and often have “normal temperaments.” The sociopath will lie, manipulate and hurt others, just as the psychopath would, but will often avoid doing so to the select few people they care about, and will likely feel guilty should they end up hurting someone they care about.


That seems so Boris. He hurt Theo, he felt guilty, he made things up. I would say he wouldn't be so bad if you were his friend, but, like Tony Soprano, he could certainly turn on you if he thought you had damaged his friendship.
About Mrs. Barbour, she certainly took good physical care of Theo, but her emotions were pretty out of whack. I wonder if that's because she was so sucked into love of the older son, who seemed to be a psycho or sociopath himslef.

27vwinsloe
Jul 3, 2014, 3:03pm

>26 Citizenjoyce:. Not to be argumentative but can you give concrete examples of Boris hurting someone? Examples of his being quick to display anger? We aren't really given a picture of Boris outside of his relationship with Theo and others of Theo's circle. We can choose to believe what he says about himself or not. But there is no actual evidence to believe that he is lying about anything, is there?

28vwinsloe
Editado: Jul 3, 2014, 5:47pm

I had another thought a little while ago. Somehow I didn't think that Donna Tartt would be quoting Woody Allen, and such a reference didn't fit with my interpretation of the novel, so I wondered what the source material was for that quote.

As it turns out, it is from a letter by Emily Dickinson to Mrs. Samuel Bowles shortly after the death of her husband. Turns out, this original quote is about grief.

"When the Best is gone- I know that other things are not of consequence - The Heart wants what it wants - or else it does not care -
You wonder why I write - so - Because I cannot help - I like to have you know some care - so when your life gets faint for it's other life - you can lean on us - We wont break, Mary. We look very small - but the Reed can carry weight."

This context is completely fitting with my interpretation of the novel. It is grief that makes Theo (and Mrs. Barbour) cease caring about societal norms. They want their loved one back, and if they cannot have the loved one, then they don't care about anything, including themselves, any more. The Dickinson quote is also interesting in that Dickinson says that she knows that she cannot help with her friend's loss, but all she can do is let her know that she cares and will be there for her.

I'm happy that I looked that up!

http://www.emilydickinson.it/l0261-0280.html

29nohrt4me2
Jul 3, 2014, 6:09pm

>26 Citizenjoyce: It does sound like Boris, though I wonder if authors have these definitions in mind when they create characters.

>27 vwinsloe: Boris hurts Theo by betraying him, not only by staying at his father's house after Theo flees, but by stealing his painting. Boris is also, if not angry, easily frustrated about his girlfriends.

>28 vwinsloe: Yes, thanks for amplifying the reference to Dickenson. Seems a lot less creepy coming from her than Woody!

30Citizenjoyce
Editado: Jul 3, 2014, 6:35pm

>29 nohrt4me2: Agreed, Boris hurts at least Theo in those ways. He doesn't know Theo would hide what he thought was the painting and not look at it for years. As far as he knews, Theo found out right away and suffered greatly from the loss of the painting.
As for authors having or not having these definitions, it took her 10 years to write The Goldfinch, and wasn't it 10 years to write The Secret History? I think that shows she has a thing about sociopaths for some reason.
>28 vwinsloe: Thanks for looking that up. It didn't seem Tartt would quote such a sleazebag, though if you're writing about sociopaths you might want to use some real life example. Just to stretch the point, I could think she found a quote from a truly loving person that had been used by a manipulator to show a contrast.

31vwinsloe
Editado: Jul 3, 2014, 6:54pm

>30 Citizenjoyce:. I still disagree with your definition of sociopath.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000921.htm

Generally, sociopaths hurt more than people's feelings. They are angry, violent people, and I don't think that Boris is correctly characterized as such. If Tartt wanted us to believe that he was a sociopath, she would have had him lighting fires or having homicidal rages. Instead, she repeatedly softened the misconduct that he did engage in. There is not a single incident of Boris being angry or violent that I can think of.

Theo actually engaged in more criminal activity and betrayed Hobie by selling his repaired and replicated furniture as originals to unsuspecting customers. As Boris points out, only Theo has murdered someone.

I guess if both boys are just viewed as immoral sociopaths created by their environments and lack of parenting, then I am not sure what the meaning or purpose of the book is? Sure, books don't always need a meaning or a purpose. But great books have them, and I think that this is a great book.

32vwinsloe
Editado: Jul 4, 2014, 8:30am

And what about the painting itself? Is it just a Macguffin with no real meaning?

The more I think about it, I think that the choice of that particular painting was intentional and highly symbolic. The painting itself had survived an explosion that killed the artist that created it. So right away we are given a clue that the painting symbolizes Theo and his mother.

The painting itself is of a wild bird chained. The painting becomes Theo's burden as well as a connection to his mother and that fateful day (an albatross.) Is Theo the wild bird chained by his grief and guilt? When the painting is finally returned, is Theo finally freed?

There is just SO much food for thought in this book. Instead of writing about sociopathic behavior or PTSD, could Tartt's focus really have been on the psychological condition that is known as "complicated grief disorder?"

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/complicated-grief/basics/symptoms/...

33nohrt4me2
Jul 4, 2014, 9:58am

Yes, I think the painting is significant. Tartt could have just made up a painting to suit her purposes, but the fact that she chose a real painting and wove its history into her novel is masterful. I think that Theo will be forever chained to that moment in the museum that put his life on a whole different trajectory. Even if the chain is very thin as it is in the painting.

34Citizenjoyce
Jul 4, 2014, 3:40pm

>31 vwinsloe: I think your quoted definition very accurately describes Boris.
I also think you're absolutely right about the painting's symbolism. Poor chained Theo. He hoped Pippa would break that chain, but I think she realized she would just become entangled in it with him.

35vwinsloe
Editado: Jul 5, 2014, 3:12pm

I avoided any and all reviews before I read The Goldfinch but I have started to look at them since I finished. You may find this one particularly interesting >17 nohrt4me2:, because Tartt talks about why she made the protagonist male in her new book as well as in The Secret History.

http://www.salon.com/2013/10/22/donna_tartt_the_fun_thing_about_writing_a_book_i...

She also mentions more than once that she personally has a lot in common with Theo.

36sturlington
Jul 5, 2014, 9:08am

>35 vwinsloe: Interesting interview! I would like to revisit The Secret History and compare it to The Goldfinch.

37vwinsloe
Editado: Jul 5, 2014, 3:12pm

>36 sturlington:, I read The Secret History about 10 or so years ago which was 20 years after it came out. Although I could see the appeal, I did not find it as nearly as affecting as The Goldfinch, and I thought that it was possibly because it was dated at that point. I don't remember much about it (other than the basic plot), and I didn't read The Little Friend, which I might do at some point now, knowing that the protagonist in that book is female.

Donna Tartt seems to be an interesting character herself. She is described as reclusive, and any photo that I have seen of her she is always rocking the menswear. Definitely arouses my curiosity!

38Citizenjoyce
Editado: Jul 5, 2014, 7:21pm

>35 vwinsloe: Thanks, that was great. Thank heavens she didn't go for the who's he going to marry motif. I'm really sick of that. I hate to think books with female main characters have to be that way. It saddens me to think that a good writer will avoid making the main character female because she doesn't want to anger the reader by not making a marriage story. The only way to change that expectation is to change the books presented to readers, but I realize if you finish only 1 book every 10 years, you don't want to think of it as a sacrificial pioneering kind of thing. So now I have to think of good books with female main characters that don't revolve around her getting a man. The good thing about Spider Woman's Daughter is that the main female character is already married, so she can go about her business enjoying her husband and not looking for another man.

39nohrt4me2
Jul 5, 2014, 9:59pm

One of the reasons I like to read books about nuns is because they all pass the Bechdel test, and I don't have to read about marriage and kids.

40Citizenjoyce
Jul 6, 2014, 12:21am

But there's all that married to Jesus stuff.

41nohrt4me2
Jul 6, 2014, 10:39am

I'd be happy to be married to Jesus. He lives in heaven and has not been hogging the common living areas of our very small house with his "hobbies" for the last 30 years.

Anyhow, the better nun books are about how you live with other people without losing your faith. It's a lot easier to believe in God if you don't have to be nice to anybody.

42Citizenjoyce
Editado: Jul 6, 2014, 3:27pm

>41 nohrt4me2: It's a lot easier to believe in God if you don't have to be nice to anybody.
Too funny. Theoretically believing in god helps you be nice to other people, though that often does not seem to work out in real life.
I don't think Mrs Barbour was particularly nice, nor was almost anyone else in the book except Pippa and Hobie, but they intentionally or inadvertently did good things for each other.

43nohrt4me2
Jul 6, 2014, 3:49pm

I'm only half joking. Isn't it easier to be nicer to the odd stranger whom you'll never see again than to all the irritating people life chains you to--neighbors with the barking dog, uncles by marriage, mothers-in-law, irritating co-workers, step-sisters, ex-husbands?

Nuns struggle with this every day. See Mark Salzman's excellent Lying Awake, or Rumer Godden's Black Narcissus.

But I digress.

44vwinsloe
Editado: Jul 6, 2014, 4:28pm

I have read a lot of reviews now. I have actually read a lot of really bad reviews. Some of the bad reviews were just because the reader found the author's style to be too wordy, and they found the book to be too long and boring.

But it seems that many readers who panned the book just didn't like the characters, who they believed were evil or unsympathetic.

To the extent that The Goldfinch failed for some people, I think that they read a lot more into these characters than was on the page. And to the extent that Tartt used what could be perceived as a stereotypical character in her creation of Boris, I guess she is to blame for that. I think that many readers just thought "Russian Mafia" when they were introduced to the Boris character, and based on that, they discredited anything that the character said or did. (Boris expressly stated that he was not a part of an organization. Xandra was the drug dealer, not Bobo Silver the loan shark for whom he worked as a young man.)

Personally, I think that Boris's character was unrealistic. (Almost like the "prostitute with a heart of gold" type character.) Tartt used Boris as comic relief, she used him to propel the plot forward, but she also used him as almost a Greek chorus who perceptively commented on Theo's mental state, and who helped him get past his grief and find a way to redemption. I think that if the reader can't credit what the character says within the four corners of the novel, if you can't believe that "good can come from bad"(bad being Boris) then the book is just not going to work as well for you as it did for me.

>42 Citizenjoyce:. There were two other "nice" characters. Theo's mother and Welty, although mostly through the memories of others.

45nohrt4me2
Jul 6, 2014, 4:39pm

>44 vwinsloe: Have you got to the reviews that label the book "pretentious"? I don't know if it's because of the much discussed waning attention spans in This Our Modern World or what, but some critics feel that a long book (more than 350 pages) is a time imposition that no amount of truth or art justifies.

I find it interesting that this criticism is not leveled as often at the George R.R. Martin books. Maybe it's because they're "genre fiction," but good God. Talk about pretentious impositions on one's time.

46Citizenjoyce
Jul 7, 2014, 12:32am

>44 vwinsloe: Oh, right. How could I forget. Even Hobie thought Weltie was wonderful, as he was.
>45 nohrt4me2: I find it interesting that this criticism is not leveled as often at the George R.R. Martin books. Ha, so true

47vwinsloe
Jul 7, 2014, 6:05am

>45 nohrt4me2:. I don't think that Stephen King did the book any favors by comparing Tartt's writing to Dickens. There seem to have been a lot of people (who probably were force fed Dickens in school) that were turned off by that. I was really quite surprised to see the book labeled dull--to me, despite its length, it was a page turner and a quick read.

48nohrt4me2
Jul 7, 2014, 10:50am

>47 vwinsloe: I read this book while waiting hours and hours in hospital lobbies while my mother, in her 80s, was having a tricky open-heart surgery, and then in the ICU for about two weeks afterwards. (Ma's fine now.) The fact that the book kept me from going crazy under those circumstances testifies to its ability to take the reader "away."

49Citizenjoyce
Jul 8, 2014, 2:57am

Though people grumble about the length of the book, it looks like they finish it:
http://m.us.wsj.com/articles/the-summers-most-unread-book-is-1404417569?mobile=y

50vwinsloe
Editado: Jul 8, 2014, 1:43pm

>49 Citizenjoyce:, but apparently they wish that they didn't finish it. lol See http://www.newsweek.com/secret-haters-goldfinch-grab-their-torches-254471

I find it amusing that the book that the Newsweek reviewer thought should have won the Pulitzer was Jonathan Lethem's Dissident Gardens. I have liked a couple of Lethem's books, and I tried listening to the audiobook of Dissident Gardens and found it so self-indulgent and so narrowly focused in its apparent appeal (jewish socialist Manhattanites) that I returned it to the library unfinished. And, I can't really remember any other time that I have done that, being somewhat obsessive compulsive about finishing what I have started.

51vwinsloe
Jul 8, 2014, 2:10pm

I have also seen several reviewers mention, as the New Yorker's reviewer did, that “Tartt’s consoling message, blared in the book’s final pages, is that what will survive of us is great art." To me, that rings somewhat hollow, and if that is all he got from the book then it is no wonder that he didn't think much of it. I think that that art is just one of the many ways in which good can come from bad. It is a complicated message that took 800 pages, showing how good can come from bad without exonerating evil, but essentially, it is a message of hope.

52Citizenjoyce
Editado: Jul 8, 2014, 5:21pm

>51 vwinsloe: I have also seen several reviewers mention, as the New Yorker's reviewer did, that “Tartt’s consoling message, blared in the book’s final pages, is that what will survive of us is great art."
800 pages to say that? I don't think so. So they left the people out of it entirely? Well, that would make the book seem way too long, wouldn't it?
ETA >50 vwinsloe: . I had found the book ungainly, dull and shockingly unimaginative
Ungainly to hold because it is so big, neither of the other adjectives remotely apply. What an amazing review.

53vwinsloe
Editado: Jul 9, 2014, 7:45am

>52 Citizenjoyce:. Made me wonder whether they actually read it! I mean I sort of understood the reviews that called the plot juvenile and simplistic. Amazingly for its length, it is is only one plot line, and told from one point of view, sort of like YA fiction. But dull? Boring? Unimaginative? I can't fathom it.

54vwinsloe
Jul 30, 2014, 2:31pm

So, my 85 year old mother finished The Goldfinch. I couldn't get her to tell me whether she liked it, because she just couldn't stop talking about the drugs. She said that she just couldn't relate to the characters because of their illegal drug use, and she got very frustrated with them.

So there is that view. I can understand why the book might not have universal appeal for that reason.

55Citizenjoyce
Jul 30, 2014, 3:23pm

>54 vwinsloe: That's funny. Drug use is so common now, in novels and probably in real life. It never would have occurred to me that that would have been the biggest impact of the novel.

56vwinsloe
Jul 30, 2014, 3:38pm

>55 Citizenjoyce:. That's what I thought, too. But I think it is both a generational and a geographic thing.

57sturlington
Editado: Jul 30, 2014, 5:40pm

>55 Citizenjoyce: Tartt writes about both being high and being drunk (in The Secret History) very memorably. I remember reading parts of The Secret History and feeling like I was that really awful level of drunk myself. I can see why all the drug use made an impression!

58Sakerfalcon
Editado: Jul 31, 2014, 6:21am

I was about to write that the drug use distanced me somewhat from the characters, as while in my head I could see why they did it, I've never felt the craving myself and so can't really empathise with the desire or need to use drugs or alcohol. (The addictive part of my nature is channeled into books!) But having thought about it, I still found myself actively engaged with Theo, especially, wanting to reach into the book and stop him from making bad decisions. So I suppose that even though I couldn't relate to the drug use and excessive drinking, it didn't actually affect my enjoyment of or immersion into the book. (I'm a lot younger than 85, for the record!)

59vwinsloe
Jul 31, 2014, 8:42am

>58 Sakerfalcon:. On an equestrian bulletin board that I frequent, there is a book thread on an "Off Topic" forum. People who post there are from all over the world, but predominantly the rural USA. Before I read The Goldfinch, quite a large number of posters read it and said that they couldn't get into it because the characters were immoral and made terrible choices. One commenter couldn't understand why Theo stole the painting to begin with.

I am interested in all of these reactions, because I thought the book was terrific, and have a hard time understanding why others would not feel the same way.

60nohrt4me2
Jul 31, 2014, 9:05am

My parents were co-dependent alcoholics, and my mother abused prescription drugs. I avoid drunks and dopers in real life, and I can be quite unsympathetic and judgmental about them. Self-preservation, I suppose.

That said, I appreciated the way Tartt treated addiction in this book and The Secret History. Pippa goes through the same trauma that Theo does ... but she does not turn to substance abuse. Theo is his father's son, and has inherited that proclivity. The same is true for Boris. Both characters are selfish, self-absorbed, and largely create most of their own problems.

Now that I think about it, the epilogue, which I found too long and dense at first, mirrors the rush of lucidity addicts say they feel when they've been sober for awhile. Suddenly, connections and become clear and things make more sense. It is Theo's first time looking outside himself. A good sign he may recover.

I don't see Boris having any similar moment. He likes being a drunk.

I didn't feel much sympathy for the characters in The Secret History, but felt that their actions and the way they viewed themselves, fueled by alcohol and a sense of superiority encouraged by their teacher, was certainly believable and very well done. They were sort of like a bunch of Leopold and Loebs. I wonder if Tartt was inspired by that relationship when she wrote the book.

61vwinsloe
Jul 31, 2014, 9:15am

>60 nohrt4me2:. "Now that I think about it, the epilogue, which I found too long and dense at first, mirrors the rush of lucidity addicts say they feel when they've been sober for awhile. Suddenly, connections and become clear and things make more sense. It is Theo's first time looking outside himself. A good sign he may recover."

Good insight. And I couldn't agree more.

62Sakerfalcon
Jul 31, 2014, 9:38am

>59 vwinsloe: Interesting reactions. I do love to hear different opinions of books I've read, even if I can't understand how someone might not feel the same way about it as I did.
While I couldn't relate to the drug use, I didn't think it made Theo or Boris bad people (they did some bad things but I think they were fundamentally good at heart). And I could see that the many upheavals in Theo's life would have an effect on his ability to make good choices for himself by impairing his judgement. My instinct was to protect him, not judge him.

>60 nohrt4me2:, 61 I really like this interpretation, too. And I like the point about Pippa whho responds differently to the trauma.

63nohrt4me2
Editado: Jul 31, 2014, 11:13am

I don't want to make The Goldfinch all about addiction just because the putative main character happens to be an addict (interesting question: does the story have a main character, even though it's told from Theo's pov?), though I think that's an important part of the story.

For me, the main theme is more about the limits of human endurance in the face of grief and loss, and how different people deal with it.

One interesting thing to look at is the way Pippa and Theo respond to Hobie, who is the stabilizing force in both their lives. Pippa accepts Hobie's kindness and love, but Theo betrays it--rejects it, really.

Theo's temperament is different from Pippa's in many ways, not just by way of his tendency to addiction.

One of the things I liked very much about the book is that Tartt did not make Pippa Theo's "salvation." She protected Pippa from Theo's self-destruction.

Though I guess you could also argue that Pippa's lack of passion for Theo WAS his salvation. Instead of relying on a "savior," he had to work out his own salvation.

I found many similarities in the Patrick Melrose cycle by Edward St. Aubyn. I don't recommend it to vwinsloe's mom :-) Hard to read in spots, but leavened by humor and wonderfully drawn characters.

64vwinsloe
Jul 31, 2014, 12:04pm

>63 nohrt4me2:. lol, no, but it looks like it may be of interest to me. Thanks.

65nohrt4me2
Jul 31, 2014, 12:48pm

>64 vwinsloe: Write me privately if you me to send you the first three novels in paper form. I may still have them in one volume.

66Citizenjoyce
Editado: Jul 31, 2014, 1:38pm

>63 nohrt4me2: One of the things I liked very much about the book is that Tartt did not make Pippa Theo's "salvation." She protected Pippa from Theo's self-destruction.
Absolutely. The usual meme is that the love of a good woman will save any man, or rather that the good woman thinks that is true. Good for Pippa for not falling nto that one. Or rather, good for Tartt for being smarter than that.
I'm 68, so I grew up during the rebellious 60's where drug use was everywhere. But as I think of it, >54 vwinsloe: your mother was the generation we were supposedly rebelling against. It makes sense that she would still find the drug scene so foreign if she were always rather conservative. However, good ol' alcohol has always been around and always been a problem for some. People who don't have an addictive personality have a hard time understanding those of us who do. We look at people making stupid, self destructive and really boring decisions and want to tell them to just stop. That's the reasonable thing to do. Theo, Boris and the characters from The Secret History (loved the Loeb and Leopold reference) are smart, but not reasonable. Alas, we humans are so lacking in reason.
I just finished New Orleans Mourning in which there's a kind of Blanche Dubois character who's oppressively (to the reader) addicted to drugs and alcohol. Julie Smith, the author, says that her kind of alcoholism, in New Orleans, was not only not reviled but was rather admired, I guess because it showed what a sensitive, vulnerable woman she was. I see that in much of film and literature. I'm glad Tartt doesn't present addiction as evidence of some sort of enlightened spirituality.

67vwinsloe
Jul 31, 2014, 1:48pm

>66 Citizenjoyce:. You got that right. Romanticizing addiction is as bad as romanticizing mental illness. (Silver Linings Playbook for example.) Do you think that Tartt romanticized mental illness in her Boris character? I don't think so, because I don't think that he was intended to be mentally ill, but I can see where someone might think that.

68Citizenjoyce
Jul 31, 2014, 1:52pm

>67 vwinsloe: No, I don't think she romanticized him at all. In fact I thought the long epilogue was meant to show how such a thing could be done but that the author didn't buy into it.

69vwinsloe
Jul 31, 2014, 1:57pm

>68 Citizenjoyce: & >63 nohrt4me2:. Yes, Theo was definitely the Main Character/protagonist. Boris had very little if any character arc. He was the same from beginning to end. Theo's character evolved and changed throughout the novel.

70nohrt4me2
Jul 31, 2014, 7:46pm

I'm glad Tartt doesn't present addiction as evidence of some sort of enlightened spirituality.

Yes. In some cultures, hyper-sensitivity is offered as cover for addiction in women, just as the "who can hold their liquor better" virility tests covered male addiction.

Isn't there a little of that in Theo and Boris as boys? Anesthesia in the guise of machismo.

71vwinsloe
Ago 1, 2014, 7:46am

>70 nohrt4me2:. Absolutely. But the author shows their bravado for what it is, she doesn't depict their substance abuse in a positive light. I'm not sure how she does that. If you like the characters, you do so at the same time that you disapprove of their substance abuse.

72nohrt4me2
Ago 1, 2014, 10:24am

>71 vwinsloe: I guess that's why this is a great book!

73Citizenjoyce
Ago 1, 2014, 2:48pm

>72 nohrt4me2: Agreed. Tartt is able to show various sides of a situation in the same scene with subtle yet enlightening writing.

74vwinsloe
Editado: Ago 13, 2014, 9:02am

In talking to people as they read this book, I have done a little more research into the painting. I found that the goldfinch bird is an artistic symbol:

"In his original study of the Goldfinch in European art, the ornithologist Herbert Friedmann (1946:7-9) wrote that this bird has several symbolic meanings ascribed to it. The four principal symbolic meanings all link up to important biblical things including: the soul, sacrifice, death, and Resurrection. Another symbol that the Goldfinch stood for was recovery from illness, and the raising up of a person out of their sick-bed was another kind of symbolic Resurrection."

Another interesting tidbit of sychronicity is that two other people died in the Delft Explosion that killed the artist who painted the Goldfinch, and one of them was named Simon DECKER.

The more I think about this book, the more "easter eggs" I find.

75nohrt4me2
Ago 13, 2014, 11:12am

>74 vwinsloe: Nice sleuthing! Someone has written a book about Fabritius and the painting as a spin-off/companion to Tartt's novel.

76vwinsloe
Ago 13, 2014, 11:37am

>75 nohrt4me2:. I'll have to look for that. Thanks.

77nohrt4me2
Ago 13, 2014, 1:04pm

Here's some info. Might not be that great. Amazon is great at doing these "singles" that piggy back on a best-seller to make cha-ching.

http://www.amazon.com/Fabritius-Goldfinch-Kindle-Single-Deborah-ebook/dp/B00LU5A...

78vwinsloe
Ago 13, 2014, 1:43pm

>77 nohrt4me2:. Aha. I'm not an e-reader yet, in any event.

79Citizenjoyce
Ago 13, 2014, 4:58pm

>78 vwinsloe: Not an e-reader? Oh my. When you come over to the dark side you'll see how very convenient it is. To me that "book smell" is highly over rated.
>77 nohrt4me2: I kept seeing that single advertised every time I opened my Kindle but didn't get it. Did you?
>74 vwinsloe: Tartt just gets better and better, doesn't she?

80nohrt4me2
Ago 13, 2014, 5:53pm

>79 Citizenjoyce: No, I didn't get it. Just heard about it somewhere, and then when I checked it out (after I posted, mea culpa), I realized it might be an Amazon make-money.

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