Little, Brown & Co. (2013), 784 pages
Book Signing, €15
Donna Tartt is one of my favourite authors. The Secret History was a phenomenal debut and The Little Friend is one of the great American novels, a modern day To Kill a Mockingbird. Tartt has the rare ability to combine beautifully drawn characters with a killer plot. Her prose flows across the page so fluidly that before you realise it’s past midnight and you’ve read over a hundred pages. I had the great pleasure of buying the book after a public talk with Donna Tartt (in conversation with Sinead Gleeson) in Dun Laoghaire.
The novel centres around the acquisition of Carel Fabritius 1654 painting of a goldfinch. The painting is a wonderful metaphor for life and for art. The goldfinch tied by a thin chain is trapped. The viewer (especially in a pre-internet age) could only view the beauty of the painting by physically standing in front of it. The viewer, like the bird, is also trapped. Fabritius was killed in the Delft gunpowder explosion of 1654 and in The Goldfinch it is a more modern explosion that results in Theo Decker acquiring the painting. The explosion turns teenage Theo’s life upside-down and he begins a rollercoaster ride over the following years. Tartt has a particular skill at writing about young people and she perfectly captures the emotional turmoil that is a part of growing up. Of course Theo’s problems (including possessing a priceless painting) are greater than the average teenager’s issues. The story is too long to summarise here but it is a gripping thriller.
Tartt is a rare novelist who has the ability to prioritise quality over quantity. The Goldfinch is her third novel in 22 years and all three have been classics. Admittedly the fact that her debut novel was a bestseller gave her the financial clout to resist unwanted pressures from publishers. If you want a book you can immerse yourself in with intelligent characters and a gripping plotline then The Goldfinch is a must read.
The New Yorker critical review
A View of Delft after the Explosion 1654 by Egbert van der Poel