The reception Donna Tartt has garnered for her third novel, her first in twelve years, might be called a phenomenon. It’s a brilliant book, an enthralling story that centers on the childhood and youth of Theo Decker, an ordinary boy living in New York City with his mother until she is killed in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From there, Theo’s story turns extraordinary, and Tartt’s novel turns deeply inward, to the tragedy that defines Theo and seems his alone. At the heart of the story is an object, one that for Theo collects all the longing, sadness and knowledge of time and loss. It’s a painting that, in the wake of destruction in the Metropolitan (and which Theo takes as rescue crews have been evacuated due to a second bomb threat), he secrets away, and like the unexpressed longing for his mother, grows deep and more intense with time.
Tartt’s novel has garnered stellar reviews, and with good reason. It has been called Dickensian in its breadth, and characters that span Theo’s post-trauma life—from rarefied Park Avenue apartments to bleak and deserted Las Vegas McMansions to the antiques workshop where he finds solace and temporary normalcy with a furniture restorer, James Hobart. Stephen King called the book:
…a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind. I read it with that mixture of terror and excitement I feel watching a pitcher carry a no-hitter into the late innings.
The Goldfinch is all that. A page-turner, a portrait of early 21st century New York, a paean to art and the mysteries of what binds us to objects. Though the voice of Theo is so vivid, his observations so trenchant (and as the books nears its end, become all the more so), that to spend time with this book is to do what this reader thinks novels do best: allow us to sink into the mind of another, into the feelings, thoughts, opinions, observations, longings, fears,
questions and doubt of a character who only wants one thing, and wants it beyond all logical measure and so deeply it defines his life.
The passages on art in this book will thrill you, especially those of the The Goldfinch itself, which Tartt (via Theo) looks at so carefully, it’s startling:
the light-rinsed atmosphere, the brush strokes he permits us to see, up close…hand worked flashes of pigment, the very passage of the bristles visible—and then, at a distance, the miracle, or the joke…the slide of transubstantiation where paint is paint and yet also feather and bone. It’s the place where reality strikes the ideal, where a
joke becomes serious and anything serious is a joke. The magic point where every idea and its opposite are equally true.
At nearly eight hundred pages, don’t be put off by this book’s size. Once you sink in to Theo Decker’s world, you may well be grateful for the length, for the time you’ll spend with this character.