The Goldfinch is Donna Tartt’s 3rd novel and it is pretty amazing. It took me a while to finish because there are no less than 771 pages, but don’t let that put you off! It’s a great novel, well written with subtle emotion, that would be great to read over a week’s break.
Theo Decker is marked by early tragedy at the age of 14, when he and his mother are caught up in an explosion in a New York City art gallery that rips his whole life apart. In the rubble, Theo encounters The Goldfinch, one of the greatest small paintings by Fabritius. He takes a chance and stows the painting in his backpack before excaping from the ruins. It is this single act that sends him on a perilous path of art theft, antiques fraud and drugs. Set in the backdrop of swirling New York City of the late nineties to present day, Theo navigates his life alone, always being called back to the painting and the family of a mysterious red haired girl, Pippa, who he saw before the explosion.
He starts off by staying with friends before moving to live with his deadbeat dad in Las Vegas. As an adult he returns to New York City and begins working to sell antiques with Hobie, a relative of Pippa’s. His antiques trade is mostly honest with a staggering level of fraud. Treading a bit too close to the dark side, he is trying to keep the painting and his dodgy deals from coming to light, spinning plates until they fall with surprising conclusions. The characters are amazing, complicated and scrambled with a sense of what they want but cannot have, have but do not want. They feel real, in the end you know everyone completely inside and out and feel their pain and triumphs as clear as glass.
There’s a bit of the Breaking Bad sense about the book as well, the well-meaning kid is swept up in drugs and crime quite against his original intentions. Theo wanted the painting mainly so he had something to hold on to that was symbolic of the final moments he and his mother had together – looking at paintings in the museum – and through the twists and turns the book takes, he finds himself in over his head, trying to get back to a sense of normality.
The writing is crisp, poetic, and romantic. The research is incredible. The paintings mentioned in the novel are all real and Theo’s main profession becomes antiques furniture restoration and sales, which are fascinating to read about.
“Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?”
Overall, I really enjoyed The Goldfinch. It is well written, gripping in some parts, heartbreaking in others with sudden touches of humour. Donna Tartt’s first book, The Secret History, is one of my all-time favourites and most cherished books and so I found a few nice parallels between the 2 books in terms of style and poetic resonance. The description in the book will blow you away. The attention to detail is incredible and you feel like you’re sinking in sepia, Nevada desert, grimy Amsterdam hotels and dusty antique stores in the lower east side of NYC like nothing else. Believe me when I say it’s incredible, because I don’t quite have the words for the reading experience in this book.