It has been a long time since I have read a book that I consider to be “blog-worthy.” This book is definitely a must read if you have the patience for a well written 700+ page book.
There has been a lot of hype about “The Goldfinch”, Donna Tartt’s 3rd book. Her earlier books were literary successes and it famously takes her a long time to write each one. This one took 10 years. The early reviews are favorable and it’s on many short lists for the top book of 2013.
“The Goldfinch is a coming of age story about our nervous and unlikely hero, Theo Decker. To me, it reads like a series of novellas starting with Theo as a 13 year old boy happily living with his beautiful mother in New York City. His life is forever changed after a tragic accident at a city museum that takes her life. Terrified and unable to find his father he is taken in by a wealthy family for the second part of the book. In the third part he moves to the west coast to live with his finally found and distracted father in Las Vegas. After the untimely death of his father, he eventually returns to New York City to live with his good friend and father figure, Hobie.
The story is woven together by his accidental theft of the painting “the Goldfinch” during the museum bombing which took his mother’s life. Throughout the novel he is guarded and paranoid that the theft of this rare and famous painting will be discovered and he will be fined and thrown in jail. And yet he can’t bring himself to “do the right thing” and return the painting. He goes to great lengths to hide it and because of this he isn’t ever able to really enjoy it or allow others to enjoy it. He is obsessively concerned with his own safety and constantly on the lookout for the police. He talks about his obsession with the painting on page 559 after he finally does lose it. “The painting had made me feel less mortal, less ordinary….in all my adult life I’d been privately sustained by that great, hidden, savage joy.”
This is also a book about his relationships and there are many interesting characters and relationships in this book.
It seems that the entire book is centered around finding unconditional love after he loses his mother in the opening scenes. He says on page 7, “things would have turned out better if she would have lived…when I lost her I lost sight of any landmark that might have led me someplace happier, to some more populated or congenial life.” Throughout the book he is on the move as he hides the painting and looks for safety and family.
Another important relationship in the book is between Theo and his best friend Boris. He meets Boris when he goes to live with his father in Las Vegas. Boris is an interesting Russian boy who plays a huge part in his life. When Tartt writes in Boris’s voice the dialogue is funny, choppy and cyncial. One example is Boris to Theo on page 744 when he says “Look, I am more tolerance than you.” And later he is explaining why he is more “tolerance” as he describes a Bible story like this: the one “where the steward steals the widow’s mite, but then the steward flees to far country and invests the mite wisey and brings back thousandfold cash to widow he stole from? And with joy she forgave him, and they killed the fatted calf, and made merry?”
And Theo says: “I think that’s maybe not all the same story.”
That made me laugh. And the dialogue between them throughout the novel makes me think this surely will be a movie.
Throughout the book Theo is also looking for love. He is engaged to marry the daughter of the weathly family that took him in after his mother’s death. His fiance is the beautiful Kitsey or as Boris describes her the “ice princess” or “Snowflake”. Theo doesn’t really love Kitsey because he has been in love his whole life with Pippa, a young girl he met at the museum on the day his mother dies. The reader can’t help but see that he is confusing Pippa with his mother and trying to find the conditional love he lost when he lost her.
The passages that describe his love for Pippa are beautiful and painful at the same time. “She was the missing kingdom, the unbruised part of myself I’d lost with my mother.” I always like books that have at least a little bit of a love story, I found Theo’s love for Pippa very real and I underlined many passages in these sections. One thing I found particularily true is something Theo says after a late night dinner with Pippa: “She listened, her attention was dazzling – I never had the feeling that other people listened to me half as closely; I felt like a different person in her company, a better one.”
I have read several reviews that are critical of the last 100 pages or so and to be fair, they are not the best of the book. Many of these pages take place on Christmas in Amsterdam. Theo is locked in his own hotel room, and as is typcial he is a prisioner of his own indecision, waiting, waiting for Boris. It was odd that I too, was reading these pages on Christmas night which made it kind of fun. Be patient with these pages, the ending paragraph is one you will read over and over. Like the saying goes: wait for it…wait for it…
I will leave you with a blurb from that last paragraph, it is actually much longer and much better. So like I always say: Read the damn book! But here is a teaser:
“Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of despair….”