Donna Tartt - The Goldfinch
The author of The Secret History and The Little Friend returns with a work of compelling beauty
The literary world has waited 11 expectant years for Donna Tartt’s third novel, after The Little Friend followed up her best-selling, award-winning 1992 debut, The Secret History. In The Goldfinch, Tartt has delivered a character-driven masterpiece dealing fundamentally with loss and survival in modern America.
Theo Decker is just 13 when his mother’s death in horrific circumstances sets in motion events that bind him to Carel Fabritius' painting, 'The Goldfinch'. It's a motif that the narrative hangs on as we journey through Theo’s life, which sways between New York high society, Las Vegas and the criminal underworld.
As in her previous work, Tartt adopts an assured adolescent voice; indeed, Theo doesn't reach adulthood until after the halfway mark of this hefty 800-page novel, by which time he has endured unbearable hardship and found his calling as an antiques dealer. The prose is masterful, pinned to a fragmented epistolary structure that allows the pace to flow unencumbered by Tartt’s poetically vivid depictions of Theo’s world. It is this that sets the novel apart and makes Theo so memorable: the only minor flaw being a seeming lack of emotion at certain crucial intersections.
Through multiple plot strands, her myriad supporting characters add depth, with the reckless Boris and paternal Hobie standing out. Throughout, the painting that forever ties Theo to his devoted mother hangs in the background before an explosive finale that delves into thriller territory. Eleven years is a long wait and while the coming-of-age format is all too common, The Goldfinch, much like the painting itself, is a work of compelling beauty.