The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Goldfinch follows thirteen-year-old Theo Decker, the son of a loving mother and reckless father. The young New-Yorker’s life is forever changed when he miraculously survives a terrible accident that kills his mother. Theo unwittingly steals a masterpiece from the museum where the tragedy occurred, and the captivating little painting provides a source of hope and comfort, as it reminds him of his mother. Theo is soon taken in by a wealthy friend, but he lives tormented by longing for the life he once had.
In adulthood, Theo’s stolen painting propels him deep into the art underworld, and he finds himself leading a double life as an antique dealer and as a con. He soon becomes entwined in a dangerous web of deceit, one that leaves him alienated and at risk of losing everything. Theo’s story is one of self-discovery, legacy, and the ways in which a single event can forever alter the course of our lives.
It goes without saying that Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is a real page-turner—as the title suggests, the story largely revolves around an (accidental) art theft. The plot is brilliantly weaved together, and the reader is plagued with the same anxieties as the protagonist when it comes to the stolen masterpiece. Theo is a thoroughly interesting character to follow, in that his life is tinged with loss and continual sorrows, and the reader witnesses first-hand how these trials change him from a hopeful boy to a cynical adult. Theo also meets a host of interesting characters throughout the novel—from Pippa, an impish musician who was also present during the bombing, to Hobie, a kindly antique store-owner turned father-figure, the book is certainly not lacking in personality.
The only fault I found in this book comes from the way it tended to drag on in places. Some plot points (such as the time Theo spends with Boris, his bedraggled, drug-addicted friend) felt unnecessarily drawn out and did little to advance the plot. The only purpose I could see this serving would be to make sudden plot advances all the more jarring for the reader—you are lulled into a false sense of security, only to have the rug immediately pulled out from under you as the plot thickens.
One of the things I found most memorable about The Goldfinch comes from the fact that the message of the story doesn’t become apparent until the end of the book. Throughout the novel, I found myself (worriedly) wondering if the plot was building towards any meaningful revelations, and was delighted to find that Tartt did an excellent job of tying the events of the novel to universally contemplated aspects of the human experience (you know, for those of us who can’t personally relate to Theo’s dabbling in art theft). Of the many themes expressed, there is a beautiful message about our loving art because of the ways that loved objects take on a life of their own, as well as serving to connect us to some greater beauty. The novel also tackles ideas such as whether or not to follow a heart that can’t be trusted, the times when bad actions can still lead to good outcomes, and challenging the notion of free will. In short, Tartt poses some of the great questions that we as humans should be contemplating without necessarily giving us the answers. Instead, she plants seeds of thought and leaves you as the reader to ponder the subject yourself and arrive at your own conclusions.
Overall, this book is a vastly entertaining story about a young boy placed in increasingly despairing circumstances. Beyond this, however, The Goldfinch will be especially loved by those looking for a revelatory piece dealing with topics such as legacy, love, fate, and beauty.