Book Club Questions: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch combines vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate. 

After the disappointment of Death Comes to Pemberley, we figured we’d head back to Donna Tartt whose The Secret History we had liked so well. Also, our 2015 reading challenge had a Pulitzer prize category, so this book took care of that. I would say our reactions to The Goldfinch were a little mixed – mine more forceful and in some ways negative. Personally, I felt like this book missed a lot of opportunities to become a truly meaningful and thought-provoking read, but my friend and I did not see entirely eye-to-eye on that. (Having different opinions is, of course, the point of having book club – so if you fucking love this book, good on you, and I hope you have a friend who has a differing point of view, with whom you can good-naturedly argue over a cup of tea.) This book also prompted an interesting discussion of the Pulitzer prize and whether it means anything at all as a mark of a book’s quality or that book’s representation of American literature. We certainly had a great time talking about The Goldfinch, and if you’re interested in reading it, hopefully the same will be true for you!

Discussion questions below the cut!

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Book Club Questions: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

My friend and I absolutely loved this book. And I mean LOVED this book. The only other books to which I could possibly compare it would be Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, which has the same focus on the limited scope of one person’s narration along with the general subjectivity of experience. These books also share the technicality of fitting within the murder mystery genre while being nothing like any other murder mystery ever written. I recommend The Secret History to absolutely everyone, but especially to those who like books about Classics, poorly planned murders, and terrible useless people (who deserve to go to jail, to be quite honest). And what, might you ask, is this book really about? In the words of horreurscopes: “it’s a cautionary tale about devoting yourself too much to The Aesthetic TM.”

Discussion questions below the cut!

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