The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - 771 pages
Book Blurb:
Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love - and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph - a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.
My Review: 4 stars
I’ve waited a few days before reviewing this book because it’s a lot to absorb (literally at 771 pages and figuratively as my mind is still picking up on nuances) and therefore hard to put my reactions, feeling and review into words. First and foremost, this is excellent writing. Beyond superb. I had more dog-eared pages of quotes I liked until I had to give up because it was getting ridiculous. Through other reviewers I learned that it took the author 12 years to write this book. It doesn’t surprise me, although I hate to think about her editor having to read and reread each revision. The plot was seemingly simple and stolen art isn’t new to fiction, yet this author crafted a story which gave The Goldfinch (the piece of art in question) a character all its own, and created some of the most tragically damaged characters in fiction. These characters basically grew up themselves and there was a lot of reckless debauchery. This pained me as Theo and Boris both had so much to offer. Theo using terminology such as “his clothes fell well” or “his features were sharp and nervy, cavalry hero by way of concert pianist” allowed me realize his potential to be so much more had he different circumstances and made better choices. Boris was the most sad, philosophical, daring and outright hysterical character I’ve yet to come across in fiction. I can understand why this book is getting either excellent reviews or horrible ones. It’s easily a book that can be considered love-hate. I definitely can see why an editor had a problem shortening this book, however it did get annoying lengthy at certain parts and with certain, not so important background characters. I’d love a novella about Hobie and his relationship with Welty as well as one about Pippa’s future.
Quotes I liked:
- “They want it all as detailed as possible because whenever you see flies or insects in a still life--a wilted petal, a black spot on the apple--the painter is giving you a secret message. He’s telling you that living things don’t last--it’s all temporary. Death in life.”

- “Well--let’s put it another way. Who was it said that coincidence was just G-d’s way of remaining anonymous?”

- “Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?”

- “Well—I have to say I personally have never drawn such a sharp line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as you. For me: that line is often false. The two are never disconnected. One can’t exist without the other. As long as I am acting out of love, I feel I am doing best I know how. But you—wrapped up in judgment, always regretting the past, cursing yourself, blaming yourself, asking ‘what if,’ ‘what if.’ ‘Life is cruel.’ ‘I wish I had died instead of.’ Well—think about this. What if all your actions and choices, good or bad, make no difference to God? What if the pattern is pre-set? No no—hang on—this is a question worth struggling with. What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can’t get there any other way?”

- “We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.” —Francois De La  Rochefoucauld

- “A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don't get to choose our own hearts. We can't make ourselves want what's good for us or what's good for other people. We don't get to choose the people we are.

Because--isn't it drilled into us constantly, from childhood on, an unquestioned platitude in the culture--? From William Blake to Lady Gaga, from Rousseau to Rumi to Tosca to Mister Rogers, it's a curiously uniform message, accepted from high to low: when in doubt, what to do? How do we know what's right for us? Every shrink, every career counselor, every Disney princess knows the answer: "Be yourself." "Follow your heart."

Only here's what I really, really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can't be trusted--? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight toward a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?...If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away? Stop your ears with wax? Ignore all the perverse glory your heart is screaming at you? Set yourself on the course that will lead you dutifully towards the norm, reasonable hours and regular medical check-ups, stable relationships and steady career advancement the New York Times and brunch on Sunday, all with the promise of being somehow a better person? it better to throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?”

Tags: 2014, Mystery, Art, Fiction, New York

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