This is the book that ruined all books for me. I think this may be a terrible way to start a blog about books. But here we are.
The Goldfinch is the talk of the book world. Everyone is reading it and everyone is talking about it. I usually hate books like this. That might be your first clue that I’m a book snob. But here we are.
The first question at most book club meetings is “So, did you like the book?” The answer to this one is easy, although the reasons might be complicated. But at the outset, it can be quite simply stated. This book was stunning. It is difficult to describe it any other way.
The basic plot goes something like this. Our protagonist is Theo Decker. We first meet him as a thirteen-year-old boy living in New York and dealing with pretty standard thirteen-year-old boy issues at school. His father, a bad drunk, took off some time ago and he lives a comfortable but penny-pinching existence with his mother. The first section of the book takes place over the course of a single day and mostly, over the course of a single morning. The trajectory of the book, and of Theo’s life, changes suddenly when a random detour ends up placing Theo and his mother at the scene of a disaster. Theo survives, his mother does not. The next 700 pages trace the unfolding of Theo’s life, now untethered from his previous reality, but linked forever with a masterpiece – The Goldfinch, a 1654 oil on canvas painting by Carel Fabritus.
Over the course of the book, we meet a number of characters: Theo’s mother, whose presence haunts the book, his mysterious and troubled father and his colourful girlfriend Xandra, the Barbour family – notably Mrs. Barbour, Andy and Kitsey, the nationless Boris, and perhaps most importantly, Hobie and Pippa. All of these characters shape Theo’s journey through life.
This is a book about Theo and his understanding of who he is, but it is also a book about art and truth and truth in art and it is a book about fate and death and love. These are big themes and it would be incredibly easy for Tartt to screw them up. But somehow, she doesn’t. This is a book of rich characters and vivid storytelling. And in the midst of these big themes are the details and those details are what make this book sing.
In Part 2, I’ll explore some of those details and some of those themes. Perhaps you’ll join me.
(Image credit: Salon.com)