Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: THE GOLDFINCH, by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. Published 2013 by Little, Brown.

So, where to begin? If you were a fan of Donna Tartt's debut hit, The Secret History, you've probably at least heard of her new blockbuster, her first novel in almost twenty years, The Goldfinch. Her second novel didn't so as well as the cult-hit Secret History, so this new book was greeted with both excitement and trepidation. I remember loving The Secret History but it was so long ago that she hasn't exactly stayed at the top of my authors to watch, so when the new book came out I wasn't sure I was going to read it but my friends were so enthusiastic that I decided to give it a try.

Whoa. So The Goldfinch is about a boy whose life changes forever when the museum he is visiting with his mother is bombed. She dies, and he steals a painting, a backpack-sized (fictional) old masterpiece called "The Goldfinch." That day he also meets two people whose lives will continue to intersect with his even though one of them dies, and collides with a wealthy family which will contribute to this altered course of destiny.

Theo Decker is just thirteen on this day, a New Yorker living with his beautiful mother after his father abandons the family. He doesn't expect his life to change that much. But the future will take him to the heights of New York society, its back-room antiques shops and workrooms, the wilds of Las Vegas and the underworld of Europe. When the book opens he is an adult recounting his story from an Amsterdam hotel room under shady circumstances. After a brief orientation he takes us back to that day that changed everything and from there the book is a straight-up, nonstop forward-moving bullet train. Eventually we catch up with, then surpass, Theo in the hotel room, to a time when his life begins to resemble that of a normal person.

It's a while getting there, though. Along the way we meet Pippa, a girl Theo meets at the museum that day, her uncle's partner James Hobart, who takes Theo under his wing and teaches him the antiques business, the high-society Barbour family (son Andy is Theo's childhood best friend) with troubles of its own, Theo's reckless father and his new wife in Las Vegas, and Boris, a Ukrainian kid who becomes unofficial family. Events have a relentless momentum; you'll be gasping for air turning the pages. The characters more than the plot kept me going. A friend put it best- nothing happens for a long time, then everything happens at once.

But while nothing is happening you're getting to know Theo and the others, beginning to understand the machinery that's making it all move and enjoying Tartt's steam-engine writing. The story feels picaresque and I always say I don't like picaresques but then I keep reading picaresques I like a lot., like The Goldfinch. Theo's life is bleak, dark and often hopeless but by the time things got bad I had grown to care about him enough to hope for him, and the story ends on a note of hope and redemption even though he clearly will not get everything he wants. Some suspension of disbelief is warranted towards the end of his adventures, but overall The Goldfinch is a strong, very suspenseful and very hard to put down literary coming of age story. I think readers on the popular and literary ends of the spectrum will enjoy it and I think it would make a great book club selection and holiday gift.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from Little, Brown.