10 Kinds of Bad Behavior in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

Suprised reader

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who enjoy a long book based on its content, and those who enjoy a long book simply because it’s long. I belong in the second group. Nothing makes me happier than a book that will take up loads of my time—it’s probably as close as I’ll ever get to flying to the moon (DAMN YOU, SIR RICHARD BRANSON). Luckily for all parties involved, either group will be completely enraptured by Donna Tartt’s new book, The Goldfinch.

It’s Russian in scope and rife with Dickensian characters, and deals with themes that are at once specifically American and totally universal. If you’ve ever looked at a piece of art and felt it speak to you, this book is worth picking up. It’s a captivating read—and, unsurprising for anyone who has read and loved Tartt’s The Secret History, it’s rife with all manner of mad, bad, and perilous behavior. Here are the misdeeds that will keep you flipping pages late into the night. (I’ll do my best to keep it spoiler-free, but all the same, proceed with caution.)

1. Famous Painting–Stealing

The novel’s inciting incident is the theft of the eponymous painting. To call the moment in which the painting leaves the museum a “theft” is, however, debatable—enough so that this very question drives Theo for the duration of the novel.

2. Fleeing the Scene of a Crime

The last time I checked, when terrorists blow up a building and you survive the aforementioned bombing, it’s maybe not the best idea to…walk away without talking to the cops? Just saying. Might I add, this happens in the novel more than once. (The fleeing, not the bombing.)

3. Drinking All of the Things

When our narrator befriends a Russian named Boris, you’d expect the vodka and beer to start flowing. You’d also expect it to stop flowing at some point. On only one of these assumptions would be correct.

4. Doing All of the Pills

A good third of the novel is seen through the fog of every pain pill imaginable. Some are legally acquired, others not so much. But all are taken to drown out the roaring pain of all the emotional upsets (and there are many) that Theo has experienced—when he’s the one taking them, that is.

5. Selling Counterfeit Antiques

Maybe it’s my passion for Antiques Roadshow, but Theo’s unraveling involving the illicit sale of fake antiques was ten kinds of gripping. It’s the murky underbelly of the antiques world you never knew existed, revealed!

6. Ruining a Perfectly Good Suit

An unexpected trip to Amsterdam plus no sleep plus a failed engagement plus so much blood (thankfully none of it his own) all add up to one totally totaled suit for Theo.

7. Identity Theft

You get the feeling that Theo’s boyhood friend Boris has slipped in and out of more than a few identitiessince entering adulthood, and he has zero hesitation helping his friend do the same when the need arises.

8. Infidelity

Even love and romance are tainted in the world of The Goldfinch. Hate the player, not the game, Theo.

9. Fraud

Theo’s parents—judging by what we learn of them—could not have been more different from each other. His late mother moves heaven and earth to make sure he’s looked after and well-educated, while his father, on the other hand, displaces him, emotionally abandons him, and then tries to steal every penny the poor dude has. Stay classy, Theo’s dad.

10. Murder

There’s no way to explain this without ruining the book for you, which I refuse to do. But, being murder, and thus the baddest behavior of all, I had to include it.

Are you planning to read The Goldfinch?

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