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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

abstract:Fans of Donna Tartt have been waiting for her new novel since they closed the pages of her last one. She's kept us waiting almost a decade. The Goldfinch (published by Little and Brown, 2013) does not disappoint, all 766 pages of it in the hard cover version that depending on the font size you select on your e-reader can grow to as many as 1200 pages! As the title suggests the central figure in the story is a bird. Well actually, a painting of a bird (which also happens to exist in RL - real life) and comes with its own intriguing back story.

Painted by the Dutch master Carel Fabritius, it is one of only a few works left in the world, his others having been lost in a tragic explosion of the gunpowder factory situated next door to the painter's studio and home that also took his life. Fabritus is supposed to have been the forerunner of Rembrandt who helped his protoge acquire his masterful technique. The painting is introduced to the precocious 13-year-old New Yorker, Theo Decker by his mother on a visit to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art on the fateful day of a terrorist act. A bomb goes off in the gift shop of the museum and Theo, who has separated from his mother, survives. Just prior to the blast Theo has become entranced with both the painting and an enigmatic girl accompanied by an elderly man. In the chaos and confusion of the blast, Theo connects with the dying man who passes him his signet ring for safe keeping - a talus that will connect Theo to the next important person coming into his life. As Theo stumbles his way out of the gallery in darkness, in chaos, choking through the dust in search of his mother and escape, he clutches the very painting off the wall that he's been admiring and instinctively saves, the priceless Goldfinch.

The rest of the book takes the reader through Theo's life after the blast, as he

article:

November 18, 2013
struggles with his own sense of guilt in his mother's untimely death, conflicted feelings over what to do with the painting, the re-emergence of his estranged father back into his life, a cross-country uprooting to anyone's idea of a bizarre place to live - Las Vegas, and a friendship there that leads to the dark belly of the stolen art underground: New York, Las Vegas, Amsterdam and back.

The dialogue is excellent. The characters are nuanced, rich and flawed. I particularly enjoy Tartt's skill at showing complex emotional connections between the characters in so many forms: the devoted single mother and her infatuated son; the boyhood crush between Theo and his hilarious delinquent-destructive friend Boris; the adoptive love between two lonely hearts - the quiet artisanal furniture restorer Hobie and his young portage-come-business partner Theo, and last the unrequited love between fragile Pippa and Theo whose foundational calamitous connection is both the link and the kink to their fated chances of union. The action picks up as the book progresses to its furious conclusion and what is left is a philosophical medication on the value of art, the nature of possession and obsession, of lust and loss and finally, of love.

About the author

Donna Tartt is one of the most enigmatic authors today. Her short cropped straight hair and reputed brilliance make you think of a modern incarnation of Bronte, severe with a hint of sultry. She knows pubescent boys' foibles inside-out having taught in prominent private schools and her first book The Secret History published in 1992 about a secret Bacchanalian society and a murder at a private school launched her career. Sophisticated writing on class and aesthetics are recurring themes. I suggest you start with Goldfinch and work your way backwards through her books.

Excerpt

Things would have turned out better if my mother had lived. As it was, she died when I was a kid; and though everything thatís happened to me since then is thoroughly my own fault, still when I lost her I lost sight of any landmark that might have led me someplace happier, to some more populated or congenial life.

Her death the dividing mark: Before and After. And though itís a bleak thing to admit all these years later, still Iíve never met anyone who made me feel loved the way she did. Everything came alive in her company; she cast a charmed theatrical light about her so that to see anything through her eyes was to see it in brighter colours than ordinary Ė I remember a few weeks before she died, eating a late supper with her in an Italian restaurant down in the Village, and how she grasped my sleeve at the sudden, almost painful loveliness of a birthday cake with lit candles being carried in procession from the kitchen, faint circle of light wavering in across the dark ceiling and then the cake set down to blaze amidst the family, beatifying an old ladyís face, smiles all round, waiters stepping away with their hands behind their backs Ė just an ordinary birthday dinner you might see anywhere in an inexpensive downtown restaurant, and Iím sure I wouldnít even remember it had she not died so soon after, but I thought about it again and again after her death and indeed Iíll probably think about it all my life: that candlelit circle, a tableau vivant of the daily, commonplace happiness that was lost when I lost her.

She was beautiful, too. Thatís almost secondary; but still, she was. When she came to New York fresh from Kansas, she worked part-time as a model though she was too uneasy in front of the camera to be very good at it; whatever she had, it didnít translate to film.

And yet she was wholly herself: a rarity. I cannot recall ever seeing another person who really resembled her. She had black hair, fair skin that freckled in summer, china-blue eyes with a lot of light in them; and in the slant of her cheekbones there was such an eccentric mixture of the tribal and the Celtic Twilight that sometimes people guessed she was Icelandic. In fact, she was half Irish, half Cherokee, from a town in Kansas near the Oklahoma border; and she liked to make me laugh by calling herself an Okie even though she was as glossy and nervy and stylish as a racehorse. That exotic character unfortunately comes out a little too stark and unforgiving in photographs Ė her freckles covered with makeup, her hair pulled back in a ponytail at the nape of her neck like some nobleman in The Tale of Genji Ė and what doesnít come across at all is her warmth, her merry, unpredictable quality, which is what I loved about her most. Itís clear, from the stillness she emanates in pictures, how much she mistrusted the camera; she gives off a watchful, tigerish air of steeling herself against attack. But in life she wasnít like that. She moved with a thrilling quickness, gestures sudden and light, always perched on the edge of her chair like some long elegant marsh-bird about to startle and fly away. I loved the sandalwood perfume she wore, rough and unexpected, and I loved the rustle of her starched shirt when she swooped down to kiss me on the forehead. And her laugh was enough to make you want to kick over what you were doing and follow her down the street. Wherever she went, men looked at her out of the corner of their eyes, and sometimes they used to look at her in a way that bothered me a little.

Her death was my fault. Other people have always been a little too quick to assure me that it wasnít; and yes, only a kid, who could have known, terrible accident, rotten luck, could have happened to anyone, itís all perfectly true and I donít believe a word of it.

 

 

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