Boris, in contrast, is the dark angel on the shoulder; a teenage best friend with little but bad intentions, whose closeness with Theo treads a delicately homoerotic line. And looming large over it all is Theo’s deceased mother, representing so much lost promise. Her absence is writ starkly across his life and, tellingly, she largely remains an ethereal, idealised figure in contrast to the solidity of Hobie and Boris.
Even at its most meandering – and this is indeed a novel that tempers its heady action with length passages of near-inertia – this is deep with poise and purpose. It is a story that threads its way into your brain by degrees, gradually ensnaring you to the point of compulsion. There is nothing that is not deliberate; everything is carefully placed by the author with regard to its consequence. 11 years in the writing, this is closer in both tone and atmosphere to The Secret History than The Little Friend, deft of touch and masterful of phrase. The Goldfinch is a sweeping modern bildungsroman, in which Tartt manages to weave almost 800 pages into a taut, satisfying denouement.
Every action has a consequence, is the moral here. Even accidents can set chains of ripples into motion, and ripples can easily accumulate into waves. A 13-year-old boy’s trouble at school, for instance, could lead to him stopping off at an art museum with his mother on the way to an appointment regarding his suspension. The desire for one last glimpse at a beloved work could lead to them being momentarily separated, at which point the museum could be wracked by a blast, killing the mother. In the dazed, chaotic aftermath, the boy could walk away with two things: a vow made to a dying man, and a priceless, little-known painting by Carel Fabritius. Even happenstance can shape a life, setting off on a crooked, guilt-marred track such as Theo Decker’s.
The small, titular oil painting, depicting a bird tethered to a pipe by a thin golden chain, becomes something of an obsession for the protagonist; it forms one constant he is tied to in his makeshift, ever-shifting world. Both painting and the promise that accompanies its accrual are what drive a plot that arcs across more than a decade. Theo is batted between friends, family and barely functional independence like a lost parcel, across the urban streets of New York City, the sprawling desert hinterland of Las Vegas and the claustrophobic old-town confines of Amsterdam. This is an intimate portrait, painted in unflinching fashion, from youthful petty thievery to a woozy retreat into the cushioned haven of narcotics.
Donna Tartt
Reviewed by Emma Davies
Vhcle Books, Issue 14
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Marc Ingber – Disrespecting the Life Cycle - When Pop Culture Comes Back From the Dead
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Jamie Thunder – The Quiet American
Emma Davies – The Goldfinch
Myles Lawrence-Briggs – Johnny Get the Hatchet
Vhcle Man – Benjamin Schwartz
Andy Denzler
Suhita Shirodkar
Emma Davies is a journalist from the south-west of England. She likes books, red wine and her duvet, and is at her happiest when managing to combine this trio of good things.
Read other articles by Emma Davies
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