This month I finally got round to reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, a book which I have had on my shelves since its publication back in 2013. I had heard great things about Donna Tartt’s previous novels, The Secret History and The Little Friend so I had high hopes for The Goldfinch, a critically acclaimed novel which was the recipient of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize.
‘I guess that anything we manage to save from history is a miracle’
The events that occur at the beginning of this novel are harrowing as we are introduced to a boy caught up in a tragedy which results in the loss of his mother. Theo Decker is visiting an art gallery with his mother in which they see The Goldfinch, a small yet captivating painting from the seventeenth century. It is the work of Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt’s who died following an explosion near his studio. And after Theo’s mother expresses her admiration for the art and the tragedy that befell its creator, she herself falls victim to tragedy when an explosion in the museum takes her life, and leaves her son in turmoil. We see a young boy navigating the aftermath of such an event, finding himself surrounded by death and debris and lives shattered apart. But amongst the debris lies The Goldfinch, and Theo takes this with him, something which reminds him of his beloved mother in the years to come. But of course, regardless of the circumstances which led to him taking the painting, Theo finds himself in possession of a valuable piece of art, which leaves him with the dilemma of what to do with it. He will spend years agonising over it, whether to keep it concealed, or return it and face the consequences associated with a high profile art theft. But this is just one thread to this story, as the reader becomes immersed in Theo’s world, and sees him come of age, all whilst trying to come to terms with the tragic events of the past, whilst considering how his actions may impact his future.
At almost 800 pages long, this does seem to be a daunting read and I myself have delayed reading it for so long because of the size! And I would say that it is slower paced novel in terms of plot, given that it covers such a broad period of time which also takes in several locations. There were points in the novel where my interest dipped a little, but I was intrigued to see how Theo’s story would play out so I persevered with it and I am glad I did. This is certainly a book that could be described as sweeping, a story which moves through time and place which follows Theo from the loss of his mother through to adulthood, and everything in between. It deals with themes of love and loss, friendships and relationships lost and found. In the absence of his mother Theo finds himself at a loss, eventually going into the care of a school friend’s family in New York. But he also finds himself moving to Las Vegas to live with his previously estranged father and his girlfriend. It is here that Theo meets Boris, and the boyhood relationship that develops is another key thread through this story, the uncomplicated friendship between two boys who have both have fraught relationships with their fathers. The Goldfinch is a novel rich in detail, with every place vividly described, its characters well developed and memorable. And in addition to its central themes surrounding friendship and loss it also asks philosophical questions and leaves you pondering the power of art, and the immortality of art. And for Theo, The Goldfinch is a piece of art which connects him to his lost mother, which holds a place in his heart, memories of her final words. But his ownership of it leaves him in danger of falling into a criminal underworld, and there are a few more twists in Theo’s story…
The Goldfinch is a well written and sprawling story which explores themes of love and fate. Whilst I did struggle with it at times and think it could perhaps have been a little shorter, it was an enjoyable and thought provoking read and I would be interested in discovering more of Donna Tartt’s work.