I was so excited to read this book. When it first came out a few months ago, I put myself on the waiting list at the library, and when the wait seemed interminable, I read Tartt's previous novel, The Secret History, and loved it. It seemed like absolutely everyone was talking about this book and how magical it was. Needless to say, my expectations were a bit high.
And this is why overhyping books, even good books, can be risky. There's a lot to like about The Goldfinch. Donna Tartt is an elegant writer. The premise is eyebrow-raising: a boy named Theo is in an NYC art museum with his mother when the building is bombed by terrorists. Theo survives, but his mother does not. Before he escapes the wreckage, he has a strange conversation with a dying antiques dealer who, in Theo's mind anyway, encourages him to take a famous painting out of the museum with him. The painting is, of course, the titular Goldfinch. The rest of the book follows Theo as he muddles through his life, trying to avoid foster care by shacking up with an old, very rich friend, and eventually moving across the country with his suddenly-no-longer-absent father. In his new, unwholesome home in Las Vegas, he forms a dubious friendship with another lost, motherless boy named Boris. They proceed to ingest alcohol and drugs at a rate that made my liver flinch, and even when Theo escapes back to New York and out of Boris's psychedelic vortex of influence, their relationship is far from over, and Boris's destruction of Theo's life is not complete.
So the elements of a good book are there. However, you must know going in that this book demands a patient reader. There are mountain ranges of detail to hike through. Even the opening scene with the museum bombing, which should have been a thrilling, heart-stopping opening, felt like a slog after fifty pages. Some readers love that level of detail, particularly if the author is talented with a phrase the way Tartt is. On the other hand, some readers may feel like bludgeoning someone with a shovel if the writer won't just get to the freaking point already. It's a good idea to decide which kind of reader you are before you start this book.
Another potential hurdle is the unrelenting, monotonous shittiness of Theo's life. Some of it is external and can't be helped, like his only reliable parent dying tragically. Some of it is caused by Theo's own self-destructive decisions, like making shady business deals as an adult antique seller. Either way, it all combines to paint a pretty depressing picture (if you'll forgive the terrible, art-related metaphor). Tartt does try, with literally the final sentences, to bring some kind of meaning and redemption to the wasteland, but some readers may find it too little, too late after 700+ pages of drug abuse and self-loathing.
Bottom line: Read this book, but only if you are a lover of detail, and definitely stay on your Prozac.