The Goldfinch is an epic triumph of contemporary fiction, in which Tartt perfectly captures and executes, her coming of age story of protagonist, Theo Decker. After a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, kills his mother, Theo’s life, his emotions and actions, are inextricably tied to Carel Fabritius’s masterpiece painting, The Goldfinch, his mother’s favorite, which he carries out of the museum. Tartt conceives an expert combination of characterization and storytelling; and, as time passes by in the novel the reader grows more invested in Theo’s decisions, fate, and the ways they connect to the painting. She writes with a detailed and gritty specificity of the repeated unfair and unlucky events Theo endures. Through Theo’s maturation: his life without his parents, relationships, perspectives, emotions, and actions, Tartt reflects not only Theo’s circumstances, but larger existentialist concepts. It is through her honest and sad portrayal of Theo and his similarity to The Goldfinch, that the reader understands the symbolism, beauty and the tragedy, both in Theo’s life and the broader human experience.
From the start, Tartt wisely binds Theo and the painting and establishes separate plotlines, so that the themes merge and diverge: the reader is invested in Theo’s future and the implications of his relationship with the painting. The author tells Theo’s story of love, loss, and growth, with wisdom and articulation, that keep the reader empathizing with his weakness and humanity and anguishing about his poor choices. The author writes of the crude and rough reality of situations in ways that show that even in unhappiness and loss, there is beauty too. Tartt associates the painting with Theo’s loneliness, despair, and memories, as she describes it’s aesthetics and history. The reader sees and feels as Theo does; the painting and what it embodies are very special. It comforts Theo and plagues him, it keeps the past in the present, but it also builds a new story and significance along the way.
Tartt makes important and intriguing existential arguments, regarding the human experience, for the reader to consider through her character and story choices. As the painting becomes part of Theo’s life, the reader identifies the struggles of protagonist and goldfinch, as symbols of the human plight. Tartt asks the reader to consider whether a person’s actions determine fate. Theo and his best friend Boris, reference the premise of Dostoyevsky’s, The Idiot, when they propose that being good doesn’t mean good things will happen to you. Tartt makes a powerful statement about the nature of life and fate when she allows good things to happen to bad people, while Theo strives to do the right thing, but is always discontented. The goldfinch supports her argument; it remains indefinitely chained to its perch, as if to represent the hope we carry only to realize we have been confined all along. The novel is never uplifting, but it’s intelligence and gravity keep it intriguing and exciting from the first page to the last.
The Goldfinch provides enjoyment and appreciation for the reader who values an honest account of life’s trials; it is ripe with the grace, sorrow, and meaning of a true human experience. The author’s narrative style and subject clearly depict her vision and range for penning essential and provocative ideas so impeccable that I sometimes stopped to re-read sections, in awe of her capacity for conceptualizing and communicating. This novel conveys timeless notions that will conserve its relevancy for many years to come.
5 out of 5 Stars