The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt with Book Club Discussion Notes

Pulitzer Prize Winner 2014 for Fiction

This is Donna’s first book in eleven years, although previously scheduled for release in 2008, and her third award winning book. Early reviews from the US have praised the novel, with the trade publications Kirkus and Booklist both giving starred reviews. Kirkus describes The Goldfinch as “a standout”  while Booklist comments “Drenched in sensory detail, infused with Theo’s churning thoughts and feelings, sparked by nimble dialogue, and propelled by escalating cosmic angst and thriller action, Tartt’s trenchant, defiant, engrossing, and rocketing novel conducts a grand inquiry into the mystery and sorrow of survival, beauty and obsession, and the promise of art.” Stephen King has also admired the novel writing “Donna Tartt is an amazingly good writer … it’s very good”

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breath taking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

12 Point Book Club Discussion Notes

1. Donna Tartt has said that the Goldfinch painting was the “guiding spirit” of the book. How so—what do you think she meant? What—or what all—does the painting represent in the novel?

2. David Copperfield famously says in the first line of Dickens’s book,

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will beheld by anybody else, these pages must show.

Because of the many comparisons made between Dickens’s work and The Goldfinch, that same question could rightfully be asked by Theo Decker. What do you think—is Theo the “hero” of his own life? What, in fact, does it mean to be the “hero” of a novel?

3. Tartt has said that “reading’s no good unless it’s fun.”

The one quality I look for in books (and it’s very hard to find), but I love that childhood quality of gleeful, greedy reading, can’t-get-enough-of-it, what’s-happening-to-these-people, the breathless kind of turning of the pages. That’s what I want in a book.

In other words, a good book should propel readers from page to page, in part because they care about the characters. Has Tartt accomplished that in The Goldfinch? Did you find yourself rapidly turning the pages to find find out what happens to the characters? Does the story engage you? And do you care about the characters? If so, which ones?

4. How convincingly does Tartt write about Theo’s grief and his survival guilt? Talk about the ways Theo manifests the depth of his loss and his sense of desolation?

5. What do you think of Andy’s family: especially Andy himself and Mrs. Barbour? Are we meant to like the family? Is Mrs. Barbour pleased or resentful  about having to take Theo in. What about the family as it appears later in the book when Theo re-enters its life? Were you surprised at Mrs. Barbour’s reaction to seeing Theo again?

6. Talk about the ways in which the numerous adults at his school try—to no avail, as it turns out—to help Theo work through his grief. If you were one of the grown-ups in Theo’s life, what would you do or say differently to him. Is there anything that can be said?

7. Many reviewers have remarked on Boris as the most inventive and vividly portrayed character in the book. How do you feel? Are you as taken with him as both Theo and book reviewers are? Talk about his influence over Theo—was it for better for worse?

8. Readers are obviously meant to find Theo’s father negligent and irresponsible, a  reprobate. Are you able to identify any redeeming quality in him? What about his girlfriend?

9. Talk about Hobie and how Tartt uses his wood working and restoration as a symbol of his relationship to Theo. How does Theo disappoint him…and why? Theo fears he will, or already has, become like his father. Has he?

10. Tartt asks us to consider whether or not our world is orderly, whether events follow a pattern (which could indicate an underlying meaning), or whether everything that happens is simply random—like the explosion that killed Theo’s mother. What does Theo’s father believe…and what does Theo believe? Do Theo’s views by the end of the story?

11. The book also ponders beauty and art. Why is art so important to the human soul? What are its consolations…and what are its dangers? In what ways can we allow ourselves to be trapped by art or beauty? And HOW does this relate to the Goldfinch, the painting at the heart of this story— a painting of a bird chained to its perch and a painting that Theo clings to for 14 years.

12. What do you think the future holds for Theo? Why do you think Tartt left the book’s conclusion open as to whether he will end up with Pippa or Kitsy?

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