Book Review: 'The Goldfinch,' By Donna Tartt The author of The Secret History returns with a novel about art, love and loss that's drawn comparisons to Oliver Twist and the Harry Potter series. Reviewer Meg Wolitzer says The Goldfinch marks a departure from Tartt's previous work, but it's a rich, absorbing read — all 771 pages of it.
NPR logo

More Is More In Donna Tartt's Believable, Behemoth 'Goldfinch'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
More Is More In Donna Tartt's Believable, Behemoth 'Goldfinch'


Book Reviews


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. If you're a novelist - even one with a devoted fan base - it can be risky to publish only once a decade or so. Those who loved your first book can easily move on, outgrow you, and forget about your work. Well, testing the bounds of that loyalty this week is author Donna Tartt. Many readers loved her 1992 book, "The Secret History," and they've been anxiously waiting for Tartt to impress them again. Well, tomorrow, Tartt's epic new novel, "The Goldfinch," hits the shelves. Meg Wolitzer has this review.

MEG WOLITZER, BYLINE: The obvious question is this: Would "The Goldfinch" be as good as "The Secret History"? Donna Tartt did write one other book in between, that was pretty widely described as a letdown. So fingers crossed for this one.

And here's the answer: The book is good, really good. It's almost 800 pages, and I wish I could have lived in its world for even longer. It tells the story of Theo Decker, whose mother is killed in a terrorist act early in the novel. In the chaos, Theo ends up stealing "The Goldfinch," a famous painting by a Dutch master. It's the setup for the sweeping, epic story that follows.

Multiple reviewers have compared this book to Oliver Twist, and that makes sense to me. But when I started it, I was reminded more of Harry Potter - who, in fact, Theo is compared to later in the book. The plot is often outsized and improbable, and Theo, who's 13, is a lot like Harry. Both are gifted and tender-hearted, and terribly unsupervised.

Eventually, Theo is forced to leave New York and go live with his deadbeat dad and his pill-popping girlfriend, Xandra, in a horrible development in Las Vegas. The only good thing about this is his new best friend. Boris is a great character, a kid with a Ukrainian passport and a multinational history who's a victim of appalling parental neglect. He keeps lists of words he doesn't understand; words like wise guy, propinquity, and dereliction of duty.

The book feels like a series of set pieces, moving the story from the suspenseful opening to the rich, leisurely middle and eventually to the action-packed conclusion, which is set in Amsterdam. That part - weirdly - feels like it was grafted on from a different novel, with secret meetings and gunshots.

The day "The Goldfinch" arrived at my house, I quickly cracked it open, remembering how my sons would pounce on the latest "Harry Potter" on the day it was published. Those books transformed a generation of kids into passionate readers, and this book does something similar. It takes fully grown readers, and reminds them of the particularly deep pleasures of a long, winding novel. In the short-form era in which we live, it's good to know that sometimes, more is definitely more.

BLOCK: The novel is "The Goldfinch," by Donna Tartt. It was reviewed by writer Meg Wolitzer, whose latest book is "The Interestings."


Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.