It's too hard to even talk about this book. It's beyond description, really. But I shall try.
The novel starts with a feverish young man shivering alone in an Amsterdam
hotel room. Afraid to go out, he scans indecipherable Dutch newspaper articles
for his name amongst pictures of police cars, incident tape and dead bodies. We go back 14 years
to the beginning.
12 year old scholarship student Theodore Decker is in trouble at school for
silly, petty reasons. On the morning he is due to attend a meeting with his
headmaster, Theodore and his mother Audrey take shelter from the rain in one of
New York's lesser known museums, but one that Audrey visits regularly. Theo
isn’t much of an art lover, sulking about his impending meeting and squinting at
dreary Dutch paintings of autopsies and dissections. He feels a strange,
inexplicable connection to a red headed girl, attending the exhibition with her
elderly grandfather- they remind him of his mother; gentle, absorbed in the
Doubling back for one last look at the mystery girl when the explosion
occurs, Theo becomes an unlikely survivor of a huge terrorist attack.
Comforting the girl's dying grandfather in his last moments of life, the man
gives the dazed and shock ravaged Theo a family heirloom and an address in the
West Village. Theo, operating purely on adrenaline and instinct staggers out of
the museum with a tiny painting of a Goldfinch and the dead man's ring. And
without his mother.
Displaced and homeless with no family in New York and a herd of councillors,
therapists and social workers on his case, Theo desperately tries to avoid
falling into 'the system'. When his alcoholic, gambling-addict father turns up
to whisk Theo to a fresh start in Las Vegas, his life becomes a cloud of
disillusion, drugs, booze and underachievement with fellow waster Boris, the
alcoholic schoolboy on a self-destructive path to crime. The bulk of the middle
section of the story follows Theo's emotional ups and downs of living in Vegas,
the lack of company, the endless hours of TV and dog walking in the desert, and
the effects of gambling in a town of addicts. He sees how similar he is to the
father he despises and he's afraid for his future. He never really stood a
chance. Over the years, Theo's lies, omissions and bad decisions draw him
deeper and deeper into the shady underworld of Art criminals, traffickers and
drug gangs as he leads a double life of antiquarian respectability and
narcotic-deadened depression and fraud.
The cast of characters in this book is immense. Each is beautifully realised, full of their own
little nuances, motivations and flaws as they weave in and out of Theo's life,
colliding and clashing and building a complicated web of accomplices, allies
and antagonists. Hobie, the antique dealer is easily the most stable aspect of Theo's
post-explosion life, constant and dependable and the origin of most of Theo's
happiness. He repairs the old and the damaged and feels fresh out of a Dickens
novel. Poppy, the granddaughter of Hobie's late business partner is the
unobtainable dream girl from the museum- the girl that constantly reminds Theo
what he could have had if he'd had a normal life and hadn't been so hopelessly
ravelled up in theft and fraud and drugs.
The Goldfinch is essentially a complicated coming of age story
about dealing with loss, betrayal and about the weird adventure that friendship
can be. Central also is the importance of cultural history and the preservation
of beautiful, important things, and the concepts of home and belonging. It's
about life's often sickening pace, but also about its excruciating stagnation.
The book is a sequence of causes and their effects as Theo lurches from one
disaster to another, uprooted at such an early age and drifting ever since. I
loved the character of Theo, apathy, passion and all the rest of his bipolar baggage and desperately wanted him to be ok. I loved how
much he cared about the painting that he unintentionally stole, the effect that
it has on him and the secret sense of self-worth that he believes it gives him.
There's something vulnerable about him, even as an adult, and his seld destructive
personality makes him pretty funny at times, and thoroughly tragic in others.
Tartt's prose is amazing, she draws the reader into a world that's real and
tragic, populated with characters that are self-destructive and nihilistic and
others that are almost angelic in their innocence, all drawn together by chance
and circumstances. The acrid dry heat and huge dark skies of Las Vegas and the
cramped and impersonal chaos of garbage strewn New York. It's a book of
opposites and contradictions. For everything beautiful, there's something
destructive and ugly. There are huge sections of prose that seem so meaningful
and applicable to all of life. The language in this book, especially sections
that relate to the art, the effect of art on the heart and the importance of
preservation are incredible.
I hope this waffly adoration makes sense. It's simply an incredible,
intricate, important piece of writing It's beautiful and horrific and heart-breaking.
Fast paced but measured and delicate, and full of brilliant characters and
ideas and important little moments. An instant modern classic. I loved it so much I was procrastinating towards the final section, so it didn't have to end. The Goldfinch makes me want
to go out into the world and scrutinise some art and see which picture it is
that speaks to me personally, like the Goldfinch does to Theo.