The other section of Honors English was reading Great Expectations. Mine was reading Walden; and I hid myself in the coolness and silence of the book, a refuge from the sheet-metal glare of the desert. During the morning break (where we were rounded up and made to go outside, in a chain-fenced yard near the vending machines), I stood in the shadiest corner I could find with my mass-market paperback and, with a red pencil, went through and underlined a lot of particularly bracing sentences: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” “A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.” What would Thoreau have made of Las Vegas: its lights and rackets, its trash and daydreams, its projections and hollow facades? (234)
I was too disoriented by my surroundings to listen very closely and with almost painfully heightened senses I stirred at the potato mess with my fork and felt the strangeness of the city pressing in all around me, smells of tobacco and malt and nutmeg, cafe walls the melancholy brown of an old leather-bound book and then beyond, dark passages and brackish water lapping, low skies and old buildings all leaning against each other with a moody poetic, edge-of-destruction feel, the cobblestoned loneliness of a city that felt – to me, anyway – like a place where you might come to let the water close over your head. (649)
If I had to tell you in just a few words what The Goldfinch is about, I would say it is about grief and guilt. It’s about all the ways we punish ourselves because we think we deserve it.
It was difficult not to compare The Goldfinch to The Secret History and I have a general question about both:
- Do people really talk that way? Or do Theo and Richard from The Secret History just wish they do? Both are people who come from humble beginnings and find themselves thrown into a group of wealthier people and everyone seems to talk with this almost caricature intonation of what I imagine wealthy people sound like. Is that intentional on Donna Tartt’s part?
Theo was a very frustrating narrator. Not in a bad way, I think it was very intentional. Theo feels very real to me in a way that Richard did not.
I was talking to a friend at work about Donna Tartt’s two books and I feel like they are always presented as being big and important and inaccessible when really they are long, plot-driven books about all the different ways a perfectly normal person’s life can be derailed until it is unrecognizable through a mix of fate and their own choices. I don’t think the cover of The Secret History really does it any favors in terms of changing this reputation. I do love the packaging of The Goldfinch. It’s a beautifully designed book.
The Goldfinch is a good book, but I just liked The Secret History more. The first two sections of The Goldfinch are amazing and I’d like to go through and reread the first one again. I often feel this way, because I don’t really get into the swing of a book until I’m about a third of the way in and I always wonder what I missed in the beginning. I wish I had quoted something from the first section.
It looks as though the actual painting The Goldfinch is in The Frick? I think I’ll go see it.