Saturday, November 2, 2013

Review: "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt

With the exception of Philipp Meyer’s The Son, no other book had gotten me as excited for 2013 than Donna Tartt’s highly anticipated third novel The Goldfinch. It literally dominated my reading life for the second half of this year, waiting for its late October release date. Tartt has only published three books in the past twenty years, both of which I have read over the past few years. In a rarity, I read them all in chronological order. I first read her most famous novel, The Secret History, which I have come to even more now that I reminisce about it. It’s nefarious attitude and overwhelming sense of doom is bound to leave a mark. I really didn’t enjoy her second novel, The Little Friend, the focus being a Deep South gothic setting instead of a boarding school really showing that she was out of her element. With all the hype surrounding it, I am firmly in her corner, for after reading this book; I know the consensus will be spilt down the middle. But I am glad to say that I loved this book, and find it to be on par with The Secret History. Tartt is a master at psychological, and more importantly philosophical intrigue. She writes mystery stories where the important question isn’t what, but why. In The Secret History, it is why this group of seemingly harmless yet arrogant boarding school students slides so easily down the path of damnation and murder. This book asks a similar question in the form of its narrator, Theo Decker. Why does the Fabritius painting of a lone goldfinch come to define and control his life in so many ways? The novel begins as Theo and his mom are skipping out on a parent-teacher conference after his latest suspension to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York. While his mom is admiring the eponymous painting, a bomb goes off, killing several patrons, including his mother. In the wreckage, he encounters a dying old man who gives him an emerald ring to take back to an old antique shop, where he meets Hobie, who becomes a constant, yet ineffectual presence in Theo’s life. Also in his dying moments, he urges Theo to steal the painting. He does as he is told, and holds onto it throughout his life, it being many things to him: a beacon of light for the memories it represents as he goes to live with his neglectful father in Las Vegas and befriend Boris, his one true friend (which is sad when you get to know Boris intimately), as well as an albatross that threatens to derail his shaky life as an adult when he learns a harsh truth about the painting that sends him into dangerous and bloody waters. Tartt never skimps on the action, being able to make a long ambiguous stay in hotel in Amsterdam seem frightening and tense. The sentences can be a bit long sometimes (I disagree with Lev Grossman’s figure of 15% too long, its more like 20%), but they are deep and introspective, and leave you questioning the ways in which you live your life. This is quite the literary event, and its one that is very much worth partaking in.
Rating: 5/5

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