Mary Baker ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Explosions, Russian mobsters, and a missing painting—the perfect recipe for an action movie, but these plot elements also work seamlessly to form the backbone of award-winning author Donna Tartt’s third novel, The Goldfinch. The nearly 800-page novel follows Theo Decker, a young boy whose mother is killed in a museum bombing and whose father left them when he was young. Through a set of mysterious circumstances, Theo ends up with Carl Fabritius’ masterpiece, the titular Goldfinch, and an old ring. The consequences from holding both these objects causes Theo’s life to turn 180 degrees as he is shuffled from house to house, coast to coast, searching for a sense of normalcy.
Tartt’s dense prose allows the reader to slowly sink into the gorgeous description life through the eyes of Theo. Sprawling Las Vegas wastelands seem nearly ethereal in Tartt’s hand, and her love for classical painting is clear through Theo’s (seemingly random and never explained) obsession with it. Towards the end of the novel, the story begins to sputter and become preachy, but throughout the entire misshapen plot runs the golden string of Tartt’s descriptive genius. A notable line: “…as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.”
The powerful impact of another terrorist attack in post-9/11 New York is felt very strongly within the first pages of the novel, but the rest of the novel seems to exist in an alternate dimension that allows thirteen year old boys to talk like they’re straight out of Great Expectations.
With a Dickensian flair, Tartt’s chronicle of Theo’s life contains a cast of crazy characters who are infinitely more interesting than he. Tartt takes special joy in crafting the fantastical Boris, Theo’s friend who is “mostly from Australia, Russia and Ukraine” and tried more illegal things than he can remember. The story’s pace is best when Boris is involved, otherwise the plot has a tendency to recede into a plodding dullness.
As previously mentioned, The Goldfinch spans much of Theo’s life, and lights upon certain moments that define his existence. That being said, there are many sudden jumps in his timeline that are startling at first, but Tartt handles them masterfully and eases the reader into the next stage of Theo’s life with as little interruption as possible.
The real painting currently resides in The Hague museum in the Netherlands, and although Tartt’s beautiful story is not true, it gives a hefty narrative weight to a picture of a bird, who, like Theo, is chained (one physically, one emotionally) to a single place in all of space and time. Luckily for the reader, Donna Tartt decides to set the story free.
Rating: ★★★★ (B)