Donna Tartt sprang to notice in 1992 with the bestselling ‘The Secret History’. Her second book, ‘The Little Friend’ came out in 2002 and now, her eagerly awaited third novel, ‘The Goldfinch’ is here. That’s a long time between drinks, but it’s a novel worth waiting for.
‘The Goldfinch’ is the story of Theo, a boy whose life is ripped apart at the age of thirteen when his mother dies in an art museum bombing. Theo escapes from the building clutching his mother’s favourite painting. The Goldfinch — which is a real 17th century painting — is a priceless work of art. He also has a ring, given to him by a dying man with instructions on where to deliver it.
Despite his best intentions, Theo never quite manages to confess his theft. As time goes on — though still wracked with guilt — he becomes more and more attached to the painting. While he is initially taken in by the wealthy family of a friend, the painting goes with him to Las Vegas when his missing father arrives to claim him. His father – a professional gambler – lives in a sprawl of abandoned mansions on the edge of the desert.
In Vegas, Theo becomes close friends with Boris, a Russian immigrant, and the two neglected boys learn to fend for themselves. The habits of drugs and theft that the boys fall into are hard to escape. Wherever Theo goes in his life, The Goldfinch casts a shadow, drawing him into the dark underbelly of the art world. This and his unrequited love for Pippa, a girl who also survived the museum bombing, creates a sadness and tension that he is unable to assuage.
‘The Goldfinch’ is a big book at almost 800 pages, but it never flags. Tartt is a gifted author who provides that rare combination — an elegant turn of phrase and a cracking plot. Theo, Boris, Pippa and other secondary characters such as Theo’s father and his fiancée, Kitsey are all compelling and believable individuals. Tartt has cited Charles Dickens as a literary influence and her story has the same rollicking quality and deeply flawed characters.
‘The Goldfinch’ is a coming of age story, a reflection on the effects of early trauma and a wild ride. I found it deeply satisfying and hard to put down.