I have been holed up, indulging in the new Donna Tartt novel The Goldfinch.
Oh my, it is so good, I have been reading it deliberately slowly. Her writing – this is just her third book in 30 years – is elegant and deceptively spare, yet crammed full of detail. A colleague of mine says that if he had to have a narrator in his head, narrating his life as he went, he’d want it to be Donna Tartt. I kind of agree – and also, I don’t quite get why people are so wound up that she writes so ‘slowly’: she writes as she writes, and it is wonderful. More books would be great but at least we have this one, and The Secret History and The Little Friend. I am not going to say much about these or indeed The Goldfinch – I don’t want to take up the time you could/should be reading one of these modern classics.
The Goldfinch is the story of Theo Decker, who at thirteen survives an accident that throws his life into chaos. His scramble to survive intact, with the wealthy Park Avenue family of his best friend, with his mercurial feckless father in a hot, dusty and dry Las Vegas, and finally with the furniture restorer who takes him in when his life implodes again, is anchored by the world-famous painting The Goldfinch, a painting that reminds him of his mother and the yearned for time ‘before’. Theo’s friend Boris, another lost boy, is pure energy, anarchic and vital, a fascinating counterpoint to Theo’s lethargy and sadness.
Their fall – more of a dive, really – into drugs and the criminal art world seems both fated and chosen. Like the captured bird in the glowing painting, Theo is appealing, lively but restricted, handicapped by his childhood trauma. The book is dramatic, very satisfying, surprising, slightly haunting: vintage Tartt.