I’ve been reading The Goldfinch for a week now, averaging about 100 pages a day. Like some of the book bloggers have commented, the page count is what ikept me away from this book shortly after I bought it in Bangkok during the recent trip. Despite the length, which can be stalling, I find The Goldfinch more accessible than The Secret History, a story told by in retrospection by Richard Pipen, a young man who, ashamed of his humble past in rural California, finds at a small Vermont college the life of privilege and intellect he has long coveted. By chance, he becomes part of a closed circle of Greek classics students whom he looks with awe, envy, and an outsider’s detachment. The Secret History proceeds with dangerous tension—the first half elucidates the “whydunit,” and the second the horrible mind-purging aftermath. It’s a compelling tale of deception and complicity, examining not so much the moral resonance as the banality of evil. In retrospect the narrator looks in dismay how his passivity and desire to ingratiate pull him into a course of destruction.
Theo Decker is 13 years old when his life is blown apart, in a very literal sense. There’s an explosion in a gallery h’’s visiting with his devoted, angelic mother. She dies; he escapes with minor injuries and carrying a priceless painting from 1654 called The Goldfinch. At its best, The Goldfinch has that cozily addictive quality of a good old Victorian doorstopper. It at times reminded me of Dickens, but with its air of mystery, intrigue and dastardly doings it reminded me more of Wilkie Collins. At its worst, though, it can be torturous. For great chunks of the book Theo just mopes about his mum and ingests opiates in an unconvincing manner. It’s overall a good story and the story gets better toward the end.