The Goldfinch

The GoldfinchI had been excited to read this book for months because I just kept hearing about it everywhere. I swear I saw this book recommended about a million times before I actually had the chance to crack it up and give it a read. I’ve been traveling over the past couple of days to our vacation spot in beautiful Costa Rica, and I’ve been glued to my Kindle, finishing up this book on the flights. I’m excited to hear what you thought!

If you haven’t finished the book yet, fair warning: this discussion will likely contain SPOILERS. So beware.

I must say, I was pretty surprised by this book. I was not expecting such a young protagonist to be thrust into such difficult/adult situations. I had a hard time putting myself in Theo’s shoes because he experiences circumstances that are so far beyond my own. Both of my parents are still living and actively involved in my life, and I can’t imagine losing them at his age. 

I’d love to hear what you thought of this month’s book. You can comment on the following discussion points. Feel free to reference the number if you like. Or you are welcome to bring up new discussion points or ideas.

1. Probably the most obvious question that we must discuss first is what is the goldfinch? What does the painting represent in Theo’s life (or in general)?

2. What do you think of the Barbour family? They take Theo in after his mother’s death, but do you get the feeling that they resent this effort, or not? What do you think of their reaction to Theo later in life?

3. What do you think of the way fellow peers and adults treat Theo after his mother’s death? Were you surprised by some of their reactions? Have you ever experienced anything similar (from either side)? I remember a young man losing his home (by a house fire) when I was in middle school, and I remember having no idea what to say to him to communicate that I cared, but I couldn’t really do anything for him. It’s a tough feeling, so I could understand some of the students simply choosing to avoid Theo.

4. What about the role of chaos in this book. Do you think the world is chaotic and full of experiences that we cannot have control over (like the explosion that killed Theo’s mother)? Do the characters in the book feel this way? How does it shape the choices of their lives?

5. I don’t usually ask this, as I often think it’s assumed, but did you like the book? Did you stay up all night reading it, or did you find it a chore? One of my favorite things about this book club experience is seeing how others react to a book, often in different ways than me. 

Let us know your thoughts, and don’t forget to get your copy of The Good Luck of Right Now if you plan to join in on the ABM book club next month. xo. Emma

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photography: Sarah Rhodes. 

  • I am shocked at how many people like Boris. Yeah, he’s the kind of friend a boy like Theo would have in his teen years, I get that and I get that they rebelled together but I feel like even if Boris stayed on the path of drugs, womanizing and crime that Theo honestly got away and had the perfect chance to grow up, but ultimately didn’t. At some point, Theo was an adult and as such the Amsterdam situation felt off-track, or even him continuing on with Boris later in life.

    I wished Theo had a turning point moment in the book where I started to see a wanting to be better, but instead I just felt by the end that I didn’t really care what happened to him so to speak.

  • I read The Goldfinch last month, not knowing it was a book club selection and I would say overall, I enjoyed it, I never thought of giving up on the book but I also felt very conflicted.

    I understand the “Chaos theory”, that Theo went though a series of traumatic events, he lots his home, was shuffled from place to place and lost his parents, and I get that that could lead to rebellion, particularly because he felt like an outside amongst his family (I may have uttered some inappropriate words aloud about Xandra) and friends but I also feel like there was a point where Theo needed to grow up. It was at the point where Theo leaves and goes to Amsterdam that I realized I was “done”, I’d written off the main character and I realized that I just didn’t like him anymore, he was a man-child.

    I feel like Theo was an unappreciative, Negative and selfish person. Theo had many rough times, and most of them weren’t his fault but (and maybe this is me not relating to the character on any kind of real world level other than I also live in Vegas) I felt like he also took advantage of the people around him that were positive. Hobie, The Barbers… he could have done right, he had a choice to make and he went for the self destructive and the path that he knew would cause harm or at least potentially could cause harm to good people.

    This book was a page turner for sure, and like I said, I enjoyed it but towards the end just found myself disgusted by the main character and his unwillingness/unwantingness to be an adult.

  • 1. I feel like the goldfinch represented the one thing that was unchanging in Theo’s life – his life was so chaotic and unstable (even before his mother died, with his father being a drunk and eventually leaving them), the painting was something he could cling to, something that never changed. I also think that maybe he viewed it as a sort of “link” to his mother – it was representative of the last experience they shared together before she died.

    2. I was indifferent towards the Barbours at first. I felt like they were just nice enough that they couldn’t in good conscience turn away Theo when he showed up, but that’s where the kindness ended. They seemed to be too wrapped up in their own problems at the time to really care. It felt like they just sort of tolerated him being there, and they certainly didn’t seem to have a problem with his clearly unstable father/girlfriend coming to take Theo away. The Barbours were redeemed for me later in the book when Theo is an adult, of course, but they were far from perfect in my mind.

    4. I do tend to think the world is chaotic and full of experiences that we have no control over – and, to an extent, I feel that this can have an influence on our choices (and thus the choices of the characters in the book). I definitely got the impression that Theo feels this way, all the way up to the end of the book. I also find it interesting that, while Theo and Pippa were involved in the same catastrophe, both having lost a loved one, causing their lives to turn upside down, Pippa still found a measure of success and happiness while Theo drowned in self-pity and guilt (and self-destruction) his whole life. In that respect, I feel like their choices are what made the difference in their respective lives. Theo certainly could’ve chosen to not get involved with drugs, but during that time in the desert when all he had was Boris, it almost seemed inevitable. His lack of parental involvement, of people who loved him and cared about him, basically the lack of people who gave a damn about him all led to some of the poorer choices he made. So, while I do think we’re responsible for our own choices in life, I also feel like the situation surrounding us, and the people looking after us (or lack thereof) can have some impact as well. I think an important lesson to be learned from this book is that teen years are a formidable, impressionable time – it’s so very, very important to have someone (a parent, a mentor, a relative, etc.) who cares about you and has your best interests at heart, there to guide you and give you advice. That was a huge piece missing from Theo’s life and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he made some of the poor decisions that he did during his time in the desert – poor decisions that followed him into adulthood and, essentially, shaped his entire life and character.

    5. I was completely unable to put this book down – I finished it in less than a week, and it stayed with me for a long time afterward. It’s hard to put into words exactly what it was about this book that I found so compelling – perhaps that it was just so unashamedly raw, in every sense of the word. The author didn’t hold back from the uglier parts of Theo’s life; we were right there with him through everything, and I think that’s part of what I loved about it. I also loved how the painting was woven throughout the book and how it seemed to have such a huge influence over everything he did, right up until the end.

  • I could not agree more with your thoughts on #1. That is my same feelings on the The Goldfinch.

  • Wow, i’m glad i stumbled upon this. I had forgotten until seeing this post that I read a great book by Donna Tartt years ago called “The Secret History”. It was a great read and I’ve told my husband that we should read it together. I will go get this book a.s.a.p..

  • I think that the redeeming quality of Boris is this: he was there for Theo when no one else was. He was a bad influence, and I wouldn’t want him or anyone like him to befriend my children… but his love was pure. He was probably the only person in Theo’s life for a long time that actually did love him. I think their cultural differences are what made his less endearing qualities seem ok in the end. 🙂

  • I really enjoyed this book. I loved Boris. I don’t know why, because truthfully he’s a really awful influence on Theo. Like.. drugs. so many drugs! But I loved him, and when he was absent for those years in Theo’s life after he moved back to NYC, I missed him.

    I really wish the book had gone on to let us know how the rest of the characters had ended up.

  • I genuinely loved ‘The Goldfinch’.
    a) The story is captivating, I read the book in five days or so because I just couldn’t put it away. I even had to read the end again because I read it wayyyy to fast the first time…
    b) The character portrayal is amazing. Except from Hobie all the characters have good and bad characteristics/sides and are far from one-dimensional. While Hobie is the ‘nicest’ character and I loved him, he might be the weakest, because he just seems so good.
    I think it’s really interesting that so may of you really loved Boris. While he is a great literary character I really didn’t like him at all. Sure, he gave Theo feelings of friendship (even love) and warmth, but then again he introduced him to all the drugs. I hardly could bear reading the Las-Vegas-chapter with the two of them being drugged all of the time. For me it was the saddest part of the book and I kept asking: ‘Why are you doing this? Why? Why?’ I think this is a personal thing: people doing drugs really freaks me out. I don’t know why. Somehow, even though I know that Theo is to blame for a lot of things that happen because HE DECIDES to do them, I blame Boris for most of it and just feel so sorry for Theo.
    c) I jsut have to mention this: I think that Donna Tartt’s language and her style of writing are superb!

  • Better late than never….I’m having a love/hate relationship with this book. I feel as though there was too much fluff. As soon as I was becoming interested in a new scenario the author would go off on an overly detailed tangent. The story itself is great, but I wouldn’t add it to my re-read list! I would still recommend it to an avid reader. Especially so I could hear their take on the book. I loved the Harry Potter connection comment above. It’s amazing to read others perception of the same book !

  • Hi ladies,

    I just wanted to say that I tried the lemon wedge jello recipe and LOVED IT. Phenomenal idea, and love your photography as always. I had written something in a little more detail but it didn’t post for some reason. Have a great week everyone.

  • Hi ladies,

    Thank you for sharing your recipe on jello lemon wedges. I saw your post a while back on lime jello wedges, and loved the idea then, but didn’t have the time to try it out. Seriously, you all are so creative! I keep coming back to your blog because you have great ideas, they are so well executed, and beautifully photographed and styled. Thank you for all the colorful cheer you’ve added to my life all these years!

    I digress. I just HAD to make the lemon wedges. They just looked so bright, cheery, refreshing, and delicious, seemed so apt for spring/summer, and hit a note of whimsy that resonated with me. Well, they were amazing! I am making more! Thank you!

  • I am a new reader of your blog, and didn’t know you ran a book club until now. I just purchased The Good Luck of Right Now the other day (completely unrelated) so am now really excited about participating in next month’s discussion! (as a side note, I also have The Gold Finch waiting to be read.)

  • Kass hall.. coincidence, didn’t see your post when I wrote mine. We think the same, as well Gone girl was another one, which looking back wasn’t that bad. Are you in Australia as me? Im in melbourne…

  • 4. Chaos. I spent a good chunk of a car ride with my husband rambling about my thoughts on this book. I never do that. I just couldn’t stop thinking. I was telling him about how it really makes you think. Life can be about living and doing everything “right” and not rocking the boat. Or you can close your eyes, run, and see what hits you. Boris is like this. And Theo is unknowingly like this. And they have a life that seems to give me a panic attack because it is so chaotic. But is their life really so far away from what our lives COULD be, good or bad? Not really. When you push aside a bit of the rules and perfection, you get all sorts of chaos streaming in.
    5. This book threw me for a loop. I loved it. But usually when I love a book, I stay up all night reading. This one, I HAD to take breaks. I was so overwhelmed by the drugs and the tragedy that I needed days to take deep breaths. Then, I would pick it up and carry on. I cried when it was all over because it took me almost a whole month to read, ingraining the characters into my life for a month. When it was over, it was like that part of my life popped and was gone.
    2. I felt bad for the Barbours. They didn’t ask for Theo to come into their lives the way he did, yet they embraced him the best they could. They didn’t change their personalities because a young boy suddenly was living with them. They were still themselves, yet they weren’t pushing him out (Mrs. Barbour was cold but she also had a husband with a strew of mental problems and kids with a myriad of personalities and problems…and then another teen dumped on her). Later in life they realized how much of an impact Theo had on them. I guess when you don’t see someone for several years (early in the book he said he hadn’t been friends with Andy for a few years) and then they’re dumped on you 24/7 via tragedy, you don’t really know what to do. There are no rule books here. And then when you realize you love having that person in your home…maybe they’re not yours to keep (he HAD family, the Barbours just didn’t know when they’d come to claim him or what personal situations his family were in). I don’t blame them for anything.

  • I so agree. In the beginning I was happy with Boris so Theo finally found a friend and someone to rely on. But when the two were reunited I really hated Boris. I just thougt he was a bad influence and I hoped that Theo would finally see that in the end.

  • 5. i thoroughly enjoyed The Goldfinch, but was also emotionally troubled by it. “enjoyed” does not fully capture my feeling toward the book. by the time Theo was in the desert palling around with Boris, i was so sad to see his downward spiral. but i kept thinking, was it really a downward spiral? he was in trouble before. it took me a while, well into his living with Hobie, to emotionally accept Theo as he was, a troubled boy and man with some good reason, but some not. i eventually lost sight of the painting as a hopeful symbol, but of a troubled man’s fixation.

    2. the Barbour family were fascinating. i was enlightened by Nan’s comment and assessment of the family.

    also, i was shocked that Theo’s drug use never fully consumed him, or that any of the Barbour family, Hobie, or Pippa didn’t try to stop or express any real concern. was it realistic that Theo was that good at hiding it?

    i really enjoyed reading everyones’ assessment of the book. i’ll continue to read and learn from the comments.

    ABM – thanks for starting the book club. i’m through 3 of your book selections now. The Goldfinch is the first i finished on time. i have all your suggestions on my to-read list and plan on getting through them. thanks. please, keep it up.

  • I red the book recently (in Dutch). I started reading it in february and after 500 pages I put it away for 2 months or so before I finished it.

    So, I agree with the comment that the book dragged on too much on several occasions. I do think thought that this has been a deliberate choice by the author. I think it is a choice of style partly telling the story. The book is told from Theo’s perspective and he is drowning, floating through life and feeling num. At some point I felt like I was drowning/floating in the story too. So may times I asked myself: wheeeere is this going? A lot of times nothing exciting happens. And I totaly felt lost with Theo when it turned out in Las Vegas he had been crazy and crying on the streets. Because I didn’t knew this, just like Theo, I felt like I’ve been num too.

    For Theo everything that is happening is more than he can handle. In the beginning he is a child and he feels like he has no control over the future. I think later on when he’s grown up he still thinks of himself as the child who lost his mum and has no control over his life and needs to be num to float through life. On that point I agree on the comments that he doesn’t take any responsibility.

    My favorite character was definetly Andy. I felt so sad when he turned out to be dead. It would have been so cool if they could have meet up again. And Hobie was amazing. I loved the love for art in the book.

    The ending felt a little bit forced but I did appreciate the happy ending. That was a suprise to me.

  • I just finished the Goldfinch yesterday and am so happy to read everyone’s comments here… I always struggle to believe that anyone has read the same thing as me… like the story is something that happens in your head, and the book is just paper with words on… maybe that’s just me over thinking it!

    Anyway – I have to wade in and say that I loved the book but I must admit that I AM NOT A FAN OF BORIS! I’m really surprised to read that so many people loved this character. He seems like the kind of friend that anyone would complain about (encouraged Theo into drink & drug habits, abandoned him for a girl, stole from him, lied to him, took him on a murderous mission to Amsterdam, I could go on…) and I’m really struggling to see any redeeming features to him.

    I guess I also was a bit confused by how quickly the book seemed to flip from a beautiful drama to a gangster story. The last chapters in Amsterdam felt a bit rushed and not fully thought through which left me feeling a bit confused. That said I enjoyed the majority of it a lot and could not put it down, which given the fact that I have a sore reading arm and it’s a heavy book, is really saying something!

  • Sherry, i was very disappointed as I had high expectations for this book. I agree with Donna tart rambling, felt many times she explaineed things that were not necessary. I feel she could have wrote this book in 400 pages rather the 700 and something it is.
    The chapters on the relationship between Theo and Boris… We’re so boring, I was begging for a change. I read it all, as things started to get a little enticing whenTheo became blackmailed. Unfortunately, Theo wasn’t a character I could engage and many times I was over him. Hobbie was the only character I liked and enjoyed.
    Sorry for my negativity.

  • First off, this book was one fantastic read. Yeah, it took me a month to read it all, because the intense sympathy I was having towards Theo kept making me more and more sad. But the writing was just wonderful. I found myself having a harder time feeling sorry for Theo once he started ruining Hobie’s business by selling off the remakes as originals. At that point I felt like Theo lost most of his moral compass (the part of him that made him more like his mother was fading away) and that escalated my sadness.

    To answer the question about the Barbours, I genuinely felt like they were helping Theo out of compassion. Although the family was rather cool with their emotions, they still had Theo’s best interest at heart. I truly believe they would’ve adopted him, if Larry didn’t show up out of thin air. Also, Andy needed someone in the family he could feel comfortable with. And the Barbour parents recognized this, and wanted the best for both Theo and Andy. Andy needed Theo for familia support, just like Theo needed Andy’s friendship again. As Theo got older I really appreciated how maternal Mrs. Barbour had become towards Theo. And he in turn recognized her importance with his life. I mean, she was one of the main people in his life that kept him from really trying to get away with commiting suicide. He just couldn’t put her through that pain.

  • 3. I lost both my parents a week after my 18th birthday, in a car accident, while we were living in separate countries. I think the reason I struggled with this book so much is that I could only really relate to Theo through my own experiences with sudden death and, being an “adult” (in the eyes of the law), I wasn’t trapped in a situation anywhere near as chaotic as Theo’s “family” life with his dad and Xandra.

    5. Like I mentioned above, I struggled with this book. Ultimately, while the underworld art dealing was interesting, I think it devoted far too much time to Theo’s teenage misfit period, and so my interest definitely flagged in the middle of the book. That flagging interest coloured my whole perception of the book, and I probably wouldn’t read it again, if I were to be honest. I much preferred ‘The Secret History’ (Donna Tarrt’s last book).

  • I loved it right up until the last couple of chapters when it felt like she was rushing to get it finished and this ruined it for me.
    I stayed up late reading it though and haven’t had a book do that to me in a while!

  • oh Sherry, I am so glad you said this! I read this with great anticipation over the (Australian) summer. I think the writing was good but I hated the story. I couldn’t feel empathy for Theo much beyond his Mom’s death and as it went on, I felt like he used the crappy stuff that has happened in his life as an excuse.

    The only character I liked was Hobie.

    I also thought that, at 700 pages, it was about twice as long as it needed to be. The build up of the story was far longer than it needed to be and I felt didn’t really add to the story development. I didn’t hate the book but I certainly got to the end and wondered “why all the fuss?” and a bit of “is that it?”.

    (After I finished this, I read “Gone Girl” and that one I genuinely hated which probably meant that The Goldfinch didn’t seem so bad after all!)

  • I loved the book. I surprised myself reading it so quickly. My thoughts about the goldfinch tie to a bigger connection I had comparing the book to a fairy tale. Theo lost his mother like most fairy tale characters. The painting – the magical item. I saw it as a symbol of hope and possibility. Chaos – yes, but don’t all of us have periods in our lives where we tumble through challenges. Maybe not to the degree of Theo, but still those rough spots remind us we can endure. I loved Hobie – again a fairy tale-like character.

  • I did like the book but as some of the above commentors stated I felt like a few of the chapters went on a bit long. I love Tessels review! Thank you. As for chaos I think some people choose a more chaotic life and I’m not sure where Theo fit in that. Would he be that way without his mothers death? His father definitely chose chaos and whenever drugs are involved (inmo) chaos follows.
    It was a book I thought about a lot after I finished reading it.

  • I read The Goldfinch before, not as part of this ABM book club, but since I always read this blog regularly I hope it’s OK that I am adding a comment.
    Re: # 2- I thought the Barbour family was very dysfunctional and a very realistic depiction of a WASP-y East Coast upper-class family. Their family dynamics were disturbed by the sudden addition of an outsider orphan but the story is told by Theo so he’s not able to process or understand their family dynamics or his relationships in the family until he is older (even then he’s still limited by his own dysfunction but he’s able to understand far more than the child he had once been). I think the family essentially cared about Theo and took the responsibility for him fairly seriously but they were so dysfunctional and he was so young when tragedy struck him that his stay with them was not a great experience. He was numb and alienated but each Barbour family member seemed equally numb and alienated, though not via any sudden tragedy. The Goldfinch is very Dickensian in that respect– how life can be supported at a survival level while being so deficient in warmth & love. And then Boris, the person who had absolutely nothing — even less than Theo — became Theo’s only source of warmth & love after his mother died and before he met Hobie.

  • I didn’t like the book at all. Sure the characters are interesting. I did like,pity the Barbours. At first I felt bad for Theo. However, as the story escalated, I realized that Theo wasn’t a victim of circumstances, he was a participant. He blamed his life on everyone else, spent most of his days drugged out, and least not forget he killed a man. Never once did he feel remorseful enough to do anything to fix his life. Lastly, Donna Tarte spends a long time rambling on and on about how much life sucks. The ending was depressing, I like cried because I felt like Theo wasn’t ever going to chance.

  • Ok, so I have already ordered the books I’m going to take to Ecuador in June so I’m a little disappointed I did not discover this sooner. I love your site and especially visit your photography posts. I was just giving you a shout out in my latest post and wanted y’all to know. And now I have to put another book on my ‘future read’ board!
    Thanks for all the inspiration girlies (I say girlies because you remind me of my girlies that are growing up and away)

  • (Forst off: sorry for the rant! I’m so into this!)

    I’ve had an exhausting six days reading this book. I was set on finishing it before today and here I am, I made it through! I loved the book but it has been an emotional read, and I’ll tell you why.

    I was born in Delft, the Netherlands. Until i was 22, lived on one of the canals in the old town, a few streets away from where Carel Fabritius once lived and painted ‘Het Puttertje’, the Goldfinch. I am lucky enough to have seen the painting once or twice in my life and will definitely go and see it again very soon.

    As it happens, my mum (having studied art history and being a big art lover) had one favourite painting: the goldfinch. She made sure I knew about its history. Two years ago next week, I lost my mum to cancer. Not only the goldfinch painting, but the actual bird itself to me is still a happy reminder of my mum. I remember her being overjoyed when spotting a wild goldfinch across the road from where she lived. I work in a wildlife sanctuary and I deal with a lot of birds, but whenever we get a goldfinch into the sanctuary, I think of my mum. As a memory to her, I have goldfinch wing feathers tattooed on my back.

    So yeah, I knew I had to read this book sooner or later 🙂 (and this answers your question in discussion point 5)

    and Emma, I think it’s so interesting what you said, that you had a hard time putting yourself in Theo’s shoes. Because although I didn’t nearly experience the things that he did, I did feel ‘connected’ to him through the artwork.

    The book was overwhelming to me, especially in the beginning. Theo and his mum walking by the paintings, recalled so much of museum visits with my own mother, and the way Theo’s mum lovingly describes the very same paintings my mum showed me when I was little, I was in tears by page 10. I had to stop reading sometimes, out of pure sadness for missing my mother.

    Point 4, ‘chaos theory’: the way Theo’s traumas, grief, guilt, awkwardness, alienation from almost everything and everyone shaped him into who and what he was as an adult, I could totally follow. There were a lot of things about him as an adult that I disliked (I thought he was pretty self-centered and negative about everything) but then again, he admits to those traits himself as well, so I stayed with him.

    I liked the characters of Hobie and Pippa very much, but what I liked best was Theo’s friendship with Boris. Their teenage years in the desert as friends, brothers (lovers?), however self-destructive, may have been my favourite chapter. I think their friendship, above any other, was based on living a chaotic life and having nobody else to rely on.

    Sometimes the book had me lost a bit as well. How is it possible Theo was left alive in the museum at all, for what seemed like quite a long time? How did no-one see him get out?

    How come he got away with murder, and how come nobody seemed to mind he went off to Amsterdam, or that the engagement was called off? And what exactly happened in Amsterdam with Boris, the Russians and the Germans? I really couldnt follow all that. Those were just some minor plot holes (imho) but I don’t mind, because even though it went on a bit too long in the last few chapters, it was a well rounded story in the end.

    Cristine, I love your Harry Potter theory! And yes, now that you point it out, I can see it too 🙂

  • That’s an interesting question. Even Theo’s rebellious actions at the very start are done in response to his dad’s leaving the family. That doesn’t make them “okay,” but the chaos of Theo’s life started with his father, who plunged the family into chaos with his alcoholism and abandonment. And since the dad’s alcoholism is basically a disease…it’s hard to see “choice” as having as much to do with life’s chaos as we might like.

  • I love Boris, too! That line about “acting out of love” is so perfect for Boris, and it kind of explains Theo’s actions concerning the painting — he did it for love, in a way.

  • Hmm. I think your thoughts on #4 are interesting. So, for example, do you think if Theo had not been in trouble at school (at the beginning of the book) that perhaps his mother would have lived (since they would not have been at the museum that day)? Do you feel he is somewhat to blame or that his bad choices were repaid via that tragedy?


  • Yes, Boris is a character who is easy to love as the book goes on. Although I think I understood Larry more in the way Theo did (although I am not a parent). At this point in my life I am trying to see things less black and white, as I naturally tend to. I don’t think everyone can be viewed this way, or perhaps should be. This is something Trey reminds me of often. He’s more like Boris in the this sense.


  • I love a good excuse to buy a good too. That’s probably why I started the club, truth be told. 🙂

    You’re totally right! There are some seemingly obvious Harry Potter parallels, although I can’t say I saw them before.


  • I think one of the things the painting represented was the theme of value throughout the book—what is of value in your life and in art? Art can be bought, sold, stolen, forged, and duplicated; art also endures longer than life. The value that we place in the beauty of art can be immeasurable—I think the value of the goldfinch for Theo lay in the connection to his mother—the one thing of beauty that he could cling to in order to remember her. In life the things we value can leave us at a moment’s notice and we are left sometimes with a void that we have to fill—and that void can be filled in a million different ways. In Theo’s case he filled his void with addictions—the painting, Pippa, drugs. What we value in life comes across in the way we live our lives—this was shown throughout the novel through the various characters.
    One of my favorite things about the book was the characterization—how each character dealt with tragedy. Boris (whom I loved!) similarly dealt with his pain in the same ways that Theo did—however, Boris was honest with himself, whereas Theo was locked in self-pity, rationalization and blame. One of my favorite passages in the book was where Boris tells Theo how great his dad was at Christmastime—the ways in which those two characters looked at a person (Larry) was amazing—Boris saw Theo’s dad for who he was—a gambler that was trying to do the best he could—Theo could only see the negative side of his father and continue to blame him (which, as a parent myself, was how I looked at him mostly too). As Boris explains it, “I personally have never drawn such a sharp line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as you. For me: that line is often false. The two are never disconnected. One can’t exist without the other. As long as I am acting out of love, I feel I am doing best I know how.” I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

  • First off, I’ve never participated in this book club before, but I was really happy to have an “excuse” to buy a new book and read it — so, thanks!

    Question 5: I loved this book. The writing is beautiful, and the story was almost oddly compelling. Like, I couldn’t figure out why I wanted to keep reading it at times, but I couldn’t stop.

    Questions 1 & 4 are, I think, related. Chaos, or to put it another way, the arbitrariness of death and destruction, is clearly an important motif in the novel and what I sort of love is that no one ever attempts to explain away the chaos. In fact, our protagonist himself remains to the end an avowed nihilist, saying that “life is catastrophe.” But in the midst of the chaos and death and dying, there’s some measure of redemption in art — in the Goldfinch specifically, but in art in general — in those items, like the Goldfinch, that “Death doesn’t touch.” Art, for Theo, exists in “the middle zone” between chaotic reality and the mind’s perception of it, so that art is more real than reality, where, he says that “despair” and “pure otherness” meet to create “something sublime.” And it’s this sublime space that is, somehow, the anti-chaos. Love and art and beauty live in this middle space and make even a horrible life worth living.

    Finally: I want to know if I’m crazy or if anyone else saw lots of Harry Potter parallels. Obviously, Boris calls Theo Potter, but additionally, Theo is an orphan, Welty and Hobie seem to have a Gandalf and Hagrid kind of relationship, and Theo seems propelled on by a destiny beyond his control. I mean, clearly the parallels break down at some point, but I just wondered if there was something to the Harry Potter connection and I find it pretty cool that Harry Potter, though young in literary history, is already “classic” enough to be referenced in meaningful ways in a work of “high” literary fiction.


    1. I think the Goldfinch painting is a reflection of many characters in the book, as well as being a representation of hope and goodness for Theo. It’s the one thing he can still hold on to, even though he’s lost everything else. The tragedy destroyed so much, except for this painting, himself, and Pippa, which all miraculously remained intact. The painting, and Pippa are the last remaining vestiges of the once happy life he possessed. The painting is his mother, because she loved the it so much; it is Welty and Hobbie, because they both represent a sort of salvation, comfort, warmth, and hope for Theo; It is Pippa, because they both have a spark of incandescent life within them; and it is Theo himself, because both the bird and Theo have such lively spirits yet are held back by their circumstances (the chain around the bird’s foot, and Theo’s misfortunes and own mind). He held onto the painting because it was his hope, to let it go would mean to fully accept the full reality of what had happened to him. Even though he knew it could hurt him in the end, he couldn’t let it go, just like he had such a hard time letting go of drugs, alcohol, and even his own negativity and emotional repression.

    4. Of course there is a certain amount of uncontrollable chaos in everybody’s lives. However, much of the chaos Theo experienced could have been prevented if he had made different decisions. He didn’t have to get into a lot of the trouble he got himself into. But then, of course, we wouldn’t have much of a story to read, would we? 🙂 In the end, though, Theo seems to think that no matter what decisions we make, no matter which set of morals we commit to, the world is the way it is, and the things that are supposed to happen, will happen. Even though his path was full of bad choices and sadness, it ended in something very very good (the recovery of all those paintings). I suppose you could call it fate or destiny.

    5. I certainly did like the book, but I found that I had to take many breaks because it often caused me to feel very tense or sad.

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