True to form, Donna Tartt begins her story with the current state of things – Theo Decker as an adult, sweating and bloodied in an Amsterdam hotel room – leaving the remainder of the story to reflect on how it all unraveled.
When a New York art museum is bombed and 13 year old Theo survives, he crawls out unscathed, albeit with an item he didn’t possess upon entering – The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabretius – a masterpiece so valuable it is rendered priceless. This event instills in Theo a burgeoning interest and appreciation for art; and is one that will inadvertently dictate the rest of his life.
Told retrospectively through the eyes of Theo, the story traces his journey from the aftermath of the terrorist attack to which his mother was a victim, to growing up in Las Vegas with his alcoholic father, and his return to New York where he grapples with his unrequited love for Pippa and a dubious career in antiques dealing.
The secret of the stolen painting haunts Theo, yet with everything else he has endured – years spent grieving the loss of his mother, followed by crippling loneliness and a heavy drug addiction – he derives a sense of meaning from this deep, dark secret.
With an introduction spanning 500 pages, this book is quite the tease, though Tartt’s extraordinary prose and eloquent passages make it an enjoyable one. The final chapter turns beautifully poetic and philosophical, with references to dreams and reality and the spaces in between. It is both easy to digest and frustrating at times, though on reflection I can assure you will look back on The Goldfinch with great fondness.
A passage on Theo’s love for Pippa –
“And the strange thing was: I knew that most people didn’t see her as I did…Angrily, I concentrated on her flaws…yet all these aspects were to me so tender and particular they moved me to despair. With a beautiful girl I could have consoled myself that she was out of my league; that I was so haunted and stirred even by her plainness suggested – ominously – a love more binding than physical affection, some tar-pit of the soul where I might flop around and malinger for years. For the deepest, most unshakable part of myself reason was useless…Everything about her was a snowstorm of fascination…We belonged together; there was a dream rightness and magic to it, inarguable; the thought of her flooded every corner of my mind with light and poured brightness into miraculous lofts I hadn’t even known were there, vistas that seemed not to exist at all except in relationship to her.”
– Page 462 The Goldfinch