This maybe the next great American novel in 20 years time

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

Wow what a novel!


This will not be for everyone and I am sure it will split the reading community in two, those who love and those who hate and that is okay. I am in the love this book and for a number of reasons but there was some down sides to the story.

We meet Theo Decker at 13 years of age and we follow him through every imaginable tragedy and triumph. It is Theo who guides us, his voice is strong and compelling. Yet Theo is so badly flawed that it is hard to have any real sympathy for him. It would be easy to say that the death of Theo's mother triggered his decline but there are hints of his behaviour before the incident. The novel is riddled with death, drugs, alcohol, gambling and the need for security. Every character in this book is looking to belong, to feel safe, to find their place in this world. I am not sure that anyone of them does achieve that as they all seem at the end still searching. For me Theo not only captured his own pathway of self-destruction but that of those around him.

There are a host of characters that weave through his life, they are well constructed and believable. Each is so well thought out, each is so perfectly flawed and each has something important to give to Theo's journey.

Even though his mother dies early in the story she remains central to Theo and in some ways he is never able to resolve or deal with what happened. Audrey, his mother is the cocoon of light and all that is pure. She provides the security that he spend his life looking for. In the aftermath of her death, Tartt creates the world of a 13 year old trying to come to terms with the death of his mother. It is the well meaning adults who all tell him how to be alright but never listen to what he has to say. In some ways Tartt is quite scathing of the people who try to 'help' him. As all a 13 year old wanted was to know he would not be bounced from foster carer to carer and no one would provide him with any certainty. It was interesting how the need for a parent, even an addicted gambler and drunk father is better than a secure environment. For me what drives Theo is that complete lack of security, the forever unknowing becomes a catalyst to his ongoing impaired judgement.

Hobie is the rock, the constant figure that provides a sense of place for Theo. Yet Hobie has his own problems he is weak, unable to deal with the real world and remains entombed in the past with his furniture. Several times he has the opportunity to stand tall and put things right but he is too afraid to come into the light.

Pippa, I found to be an engaging character, at complete polar opposite to Theo. While we only discover her journey through Theo's eyes it is apparent that she has suffered as much. Pippa has been given the 'best' treatment but she too suffers to understand the 'why' of what happened to her.

Mrs Barbour is just a majestic tragic character who is efficient with a house packed full of treasures but there is no love. It is quite fascinating to watch how this family interacts over time and how it is more about duty than caring. 
 
Boris is a train wreck; his life is a mess from start to finish. He is a kid whose education is life and what other people have taught him. Those lessons include beatings, theft, drinking, drugs and twisted sense of loyalty. You are never sure whether to hate or like Boris.

The other characters in this book are the places as New York and Las Vegas stand as two contrasts. New York is cold, cultured, cluttered, historical, old money and vibrant whereas Las Vegas is barren, dry, soulless, uncultured, new money and crass. Do not think Tartt berates Las Vegas the openness the starry nights are described with great reverence.

The research in this book is fantastic and every detail is spot on. I cannot even fathom all that Tartt has crammed into this novel and it is not shoved down your throat. Just a reference here and there that works really well.  If you are an Australian watch out for the reference to McLeod's Daughters and how it works so well.

The other character in this novel is a painting. The Goldfinch represents all the characters as they all long to fly but are unable to break the chain that holds them.

My only quibble with this novel was as much as I enjoyed it, there was chunks of text that meandered and took forever to arrive to any point at all.

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