Well, it took me more than a month, but I finally finished The Goldfinch! I haven’t read a book that held my attention the way that this one did in quite awhile (maybe since Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which I read last year).
The story is told from the point of view of Theo Decker, who at the age of 13, survives a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Unfortunately, the attack kills his mother. In the chaos and confusion that follows, he impulsively steals The Goldfinch, a small painting by Dutch painter Carel Fabritius, which was his mother’s favorite work of art.
The remainder of the novel traces the next fifteen years of Theo’s life and all of the upheaval that comes with it. He bounces from New York to Las Vegas and back again, struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction, sells fraudulent antiques, while obsessively protecting the painting and the memories of his mother that it evokes.
The characters, which seem to be modeled on the staple actors of a Dickens’ novel, are well-written and human. There’s the angelic, beautiful mother, taken too soon from the son who adores her; the absentee father, who resurfaces when he sees a chance to profit from a tragic situation; the rich, eccentric family who takes in the orphan; the charming, but troubled, teenager (Boris, a Russian immigrant who teaches Theo how to shoplift, drink and do drugs) who befriends said orphan and provides a dose of comic relief; the kind-hearted soul (Hobie, a furniture restorer) who eventually becomes a guardian and lifelong friend.
There were some sections of the book that could have benefitted from more careful editing. In particular, I thought that the last 50 pages, in which Theo waxes philosophical about what the whole ordeal meant to him, were overblown and a bit boring. For the most part, though, Tartt’s writing was descriptive and packed with all the right emotions. The passages in which Theo describes the carnage of the attack and his grief at the loss of his mother were heart-wrenching and I was on the edge of my seat during the climax of the book, which finds Theo and Boris in a bit of a dangerous situation in Amsterdam.
The story is moved forward by a series of events that often seem ridiculous, but somehow manage to put everyone in the right place, at the right time. At some points, I had to suspend my disbelief that all these seemingly random twists of fate could happen to one person. But, isn’t that the best kind of book to lose yourself in?
Now that I have finished with The Goldfinch, I want to check out Donna Tarrt’s other two books. I have heard that The Secret History is her best work, so I’ll be adding that to my to-read list for the next time I am in the mood to tackle a 700-pager.