For the 2019 Reading Challenge — a book I picked up a few years ago and also met the requirements of being a Pulitzer Prize-winning book of fiction.
It was a hefty book of nearly 800 pages (771 to be exact) but with such lovely prose, intriguing characters and enough plot turns to keep me anxious and hooked, I moved along through it rather quickly.
Philosophy, art history, baccarat, heroin, addiction, Proust, childhood bullies, Russian drug-dealers, Manhattan, antiques and the underground art dealers. This book had it all. Including Boris, who I fell in love with.
The story opens with a young boy, Theo, who survives a terrorist bombing in a museum in which his mother died. Before heading out to safety, Theo steals a famous painting, The Goldfinch —a priceless Dutch masterpiece, because his mother had loved the painting and in his panic and immediate grief it seems to make sense for him to want to keep it safe. For the rest of the novel, the fate of the painting hangs in the balance as it becomes his symbol of grief and loss, his secret treasure and also his undoing. Theo agonizes over how and when to return it, and what crime he’ll face. Theo’s bad choices, one after another, gets him caught up in a dark web that eventually leads to the art underworld and a complex scam fraught with danger.
The novel is filled Dickensian themes throughout – orphans, a critique of the classes, tragedy, one story told over the span of many years and coincidence to keep the story moving. It has a very similar plot structure to David Copperfield and considerable similarities to Great Expectations. Tartt even names a character “Pippa.”
It is a part coming-of-age story, part mystery, part philosophy. It is about loss, grief and loyalty and the process of change. The plot is rich and detailed, the writing is lovely and the characters are interesting and stimulating.
There are a few times I found myself page skimming. Sometimes the detail is wonderful but other times it just felt a bit unnecessary. The final chapter could also have used some cuttings down. It was a fantastic approach, ending the story philosophizing, but it just seemed to drag on.
I’m not entirely sure if I would go watch the movie, I imagine it hard to capture the emotions and the magnetic pull that Tartt was able to achieve with her writing.