Tuesday, 12 November 2013
Bord Gais Book Club Review of The Goldfinch
Bord Gáis Energy Book Club reviewed the long-awaited novel by Donna Tartt…find out if it was worth the wait.
The ‘Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt
In The Goldfinch, we enter the world of Theo Decker who we find holed up in an Amsterdam hotel at the beginning of the novel. Why he is there is hard to tell, though we can guess that the painting of the title has something to do with it. Taking us back to where it all went wrong and to what Theo describes as “the dividing mark”, we hear of the fateful day when he came to have the painting in the first place but also, crucially, to lose the only person in the world who truly loved him.
After his Mother’s death, his alcoholic father who had previously disappeared is un-traceable and he is sent to the house of geeky friend Andy Barbour, who he had once saved from bullies. Though the upmarket Barbour family are kind and interested hosts, it seems they have taken him in more for the adulation of society pages and when Theo’s father eventually returns, new white trash girlfriend in tow, he is immediately packed off to Vegas. In a new house in a deserted estate, Theo is largely left to himself despite being only 13 – his father and new girlfriend (“Xandra with an X”) spending most of their time in the city where, Theo later finds out, they earn their new-found money from drug-dealing and gambling. His loneliness and longing for home are only eased when he meets Boris, a boy in his school with a dead mother and similarly neglectful, but violent father. They strike up a very close bond that soon has Theo involved in Boris’ self-destructive ways with shop-lifting, drugs and alcohol filling their after-school evenings and hot desert nights. It’s only when Theo’s father dies, drunk after piling up bad debts and ploughing his car into a truck, does Theo decide to get back to New York and to the antique store which offered the only stability after his Mother died. But further tragedy awaits; the worry of the painting re-surfaces, and his return home fails to put him back on the right track.
Though Theo’s story is tragic – full of guilt, regret and unhealthy obsessions – we are swept up so vividly in Tartt’s descriptions that it never becomes maudlin. Though we lose hope in his family, we see that the kindness of strangers could rescue him from the “brackish wreck” that his grief places him in and we leave our narrator in the philosophical acceptance that “fate is cruel” but “life – whatever else it is – is short”.
With vivid characters, settings you can see and almost feel, and layered descriptions that immediately convey the pictures of Tartt’s imagination (“The breeze was as heavy as teakettle steam”, “flat-pad fingers”), The Goldfinch is a fast-paced novel that immerses you in Theo’s world from the opening sentence and will stay with you long after you’ve finished. This long-awaited novel from the author of bestselling novels The Secret Historyand The Little Friend does not disappoint.