The Middle Zone

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt


We don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us and what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.

I am literally cringing at my screen writing this review because this book has fricking won the Pulitzer. It’s like throwing the penny that bought my glazed thoughts after finishing this and throwing it at the ocean. Which is in some ways quite liberating.

The only reason I’m rounding this to a 4 and not a 5 is because I feel I’d be misrepresenting the extent of my grasp of what this eloquently ponderous book delivered. At 771-pages, this doorstopper was as sprawling as it was personal and it feels like the answer to all my whining about texture and depth and complexity and heart. There’s so many things to be pedantic about and Donna Tartt generously indulges you to think on them. Invites you to stand in the middle zone: “the space where mind strikes reality and beauty comes to being”. So I’m going to call this ridiculous notion of a rating leaving space for the re-read and instead contemplate on how The Goldfinch could easily be anyone’s The Goldfinch.

I wish it was MY Goldfinch but I have a sinking feeling that it’s Sidney Sheldon and Judith McNaught for me. 

For shame.

I wish they aren’t and I wish I am not ashamed of that admission either, but as Theo says, we can’t escape who we are.

I am not a literary fiction reader and I am not the kind of person who cries over a painting. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a handful of museums in Europe and I can’t help but feel like a pretentious little twat, standing in the midst of all that history and art, entertaining myself with frat-boy humor.

I feel art is an isolationist medium, just one more element to stratify people further apart. It’s the very issue I had with the last thriller I read where Middle Eastern extremists set about to target The Louvre and The David, which, outside the actual body count, I could only fathom to strike terror in the hearts of art history majors and hipsters. 

But this. This made me care. This made me understand the complex power of art through prose that is simultaneously melodious and grungy, depicting the life and times of one Theo Decker: an archive of failures and secrets; sadness and survival; disappointment and nihilist hope. It stems from a rare picture of a bird, the heartbreak that came along with Theo obtaining it and the course his life took in the aftermath. And the series of aftermaths that came along the aftermath. 

It was depressing and uplifting, made of moments of barely restrained tension and indulgent philosophical lulls with characters so intensely created in their detail as emissaries of viewpoints that are equally valid and necessary to be heard.

And if the hearty discussion, the flammable emotions and opinions, favourable or not, this book stoked among it’s readers could not be the best witness to its empirical triumph as a piece of literature, then I don’t know what is.

Go get a copy and shun social life for a couple of days. Before you’ve read enough reviews you’ve practically read the book itself. Before a movie gets made. Before I manage to talk myself into talking specifics about this book.

Run. Don’t walk.