It’s not usually my style to stick my beak into the furore, however, thanks to a highly ambitious and enthusiastic Manchester book group, I actually managed to spend two weeks reading just one book last month, devouring Donna Tartt’s doorstop, ‘big American novel’ The Goldfinch in readiness for August’s get together.
As always, the greater the hype the greater my nerves about a new release however, one certainty was the fact that this was always going to be a book group-pleaser, whichever way the pendulum swung. After a series of damp squibs, this captivating tale was sorely needed and deeply admired by all.
Theo Decker’s life is outwardly unimpressive. To others, this is a young man defined by the loss of his mother in a violent accident; an event that sends him spiraling into an existence of drug-addiction, depression and deception. Orbiting around his connection with an unassuming 17th century painting of a goldfinch, we follow Theo from the bleak deserts of Las Vegas, to the musty antique shops of New York, to the back streets of Amsterdam in a superb love story dedicated to enduringly beautiful objects and human flaw.
Seeing how hooked I was to this book (dragging it around with me everywhere – see picture below) my other half enthusiastically asked me what it was about. Struggling to get beyond the ‘just a story about some guy’s life’ bit, I frankly made it all sound a little dull, which this book could so easily be. Instead, under Tartt’s deft pen, Theo’s life takes on a rather sweeping, film-like feel with stunning scenery (see the wide Las Vegas skies) and a superb inner monologue, written in such a way that our hearts dip and soar with him:
‘the flavor of Pippa’s kiss – bittersweet and strange – stayed with me all the way back uptown, swaying and sleepy as I sailed home on the bus, melting with sorrow and loveliness, a starry ache that lifted me up above the windswept city like a kite: my head in the rainclouds, my heart in the sky.’
Tartt’s writerly prowess means that we don’t glimpse even a peek of middle-aged woman in this teenage boy. Theo is a hopelessly flawed individual, something that resulted in a grand debate into his likability and, rather melodramatically, whether he is ultimately a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person. With our anti-hero just unremarkable and mutable enough to blend into the background of his own story, fabulous characters such as eccentric childhood friend Boris and cosy protector and business partner Hoby take centre stage.
With an uproarious, positive reception from the start, as time has gone by critics seemed to have turned disappointingly snobby on this novel. The dialogue isn’t ‘literary’ enough you say? A 15-year-old drug addict isn’t ‘literary’ enough for you?! What rubbish. Books are for entertainment and, as an avid reader of both ‘high brow’, classic and popular fiction I can tell you that I enjoyed this very much indeed. Boo to you critics!
I’ve read few books that keep up the momentum for 800 pages and this is no exception. One particular twist of the plot irritated me slightly and meant that, with only 150 pages to go, my confidence in the story took a wobble (swiftly righted, I’m happy to say). It also has to be said that a big daydreamer like myself can also start to get a little down on all the dying…
This is a beautifully written novel, brave in its sorrows and unique in its celebration of fine-things. A book that loves beauty, and, as a typical Libra, it turns out I do too.