It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
The Goldfinch is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breathtaking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.
This isn’t a review.
This post is about my reading of this book.
This stellar stellar book.
First you probably should know that I’m the kind of crazy reader who has at least four or five books going on together – one on the kindle, one on Overdrive on my tablet (so that I can max out my e-book loans from two libraries), one graphic novel borrowed from the library, perhaps one kidlit for a quick distraction, a non-fiction that is slowly being picked at. I always have several e-books downloaded from the library at a time. E-books are my main reads these days as it’s a bit tricky manhandling two littles around the library, along with their massive library loot.
So it was a rather unusual past week where I read just two books. The Goldfinch on the Kindle (and Kindle app on the tablet). Then for something to dip into, for a slightly different taste when I came up from air from reading The Goldfinch, Howard Cruse’s graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby, a very different sort of read set in the 1960s, in small-town America.
And for those days when I was immersed in Donna Tartt’s world, whether it was New York or Las Vegas or Amsterdam, I was cocooned in this book, reading little else, thinking of little else (aside from those nagging demands from the littles and the usual every day necessities like eating and drinking). And for me, the best sign of a great book is the way I felt a little lost after it ended. Reluctant to pick up another book. Hesitant to start something new that would take away this world that still swirled around in my mind.
While The Goldfinch had an intriguing plot, what made the book sing was its characters. The young Theo, lost in the aftermath of the tragedy, unwanted, unsure. His best friend Boris, brash, alcoholic, unpredictable. The sweet and generous Hobie who takes Theo in, but whose mind is on his work (furniture restoration) more than anything else.
And not to forget, the very important work of art itself. When Theo first sees The Goldfinch in the museum with his mother, he doesn’t quite see it yet. And he’s really more interested in that girl he saw:
“It was a small picture, the smallest in the exhibition, and the simplest: a yellow finch, against a plain, pale ground, chained to a perch by its twig of an ankle.”
But when he sees it again, much later, in Las Vegas, he begins to understand its significance.
“In the arid room – all sheetrock and whiteness – the muted colors bloomed with life; and even though the surface of the painting was ghosted ever so slightly with dust, the atmosphere it breathed was like the light-rinsed airiness of a wall opposite an open window. “
And even when it’s hidden away, there is something magical about it:
“Even in the act of reaching for it there was a sense of expansion, a waft and a lifting; and at some strange point, when I’d looked at it for long enough, eyes dry from the refrigerated desert air, all space appeared to vanish between me and it so that when I looked up it was the painting and not me that was real.”
It’s so hard to say goodbye to a book you’ve been so immersed in, whose characters you continue to wonder about, whose lives you’ve been so invested in. The Goldfinch was just breathtaking!
I know this is hardly a decent post about this book but I felt the need to put something down, to make a note of my having read this. Because it was a read that shouldn’t disappear into the black hole that is my memory.