The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

It’s not about outward appearances but inward significance.

This is the book that everyone is talking about, the new Donna Tartt has been 11 years in the waiting.

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The novel follows the fortunes of Theo Decker whose childhood is shattered by the sudden death of his mother in a bomb attack during a chance visit to a museum . Theo survives the attack and just before his escape is handed a painting (The Goldfinch) by an old man also caught in the blast and dying. He also hands Theo a ring and gives him some instructions to find his antique shop in Greenwich Village. Moments before the blast, Theo has been captivated by the sight of a enigmatic red-haired girl, Pippa, with whom he becomes obsessed throughout his life.

Alone in New York, Theo first goes to live with Barbours, the family of a boy at school with whom he has a rather distant friendship, until he is tracked down by his alcoholic and feckless father and transported to a life of benign neglectfulness in Las Vegas. There he starts a life long sort-of friendship with Boris, a Polish Ukranian boy also living alone with his own father, and is introduced to a life of drugs and playing hookey.

In the beginning,Theo intends to tell the authorities he has The Goldfinch but for reasons he cannot fully understand he keeps it hidden. As time goes on it becomes harder and harder for him to think of parting with it. He can’t speak about it with anyone or even look at it.

The book has been compared to Harry Potter. This is unfair although there are indeed echoes…….is Donna Tartt a J K Rowling fan perhaps? Welty, the old man dying in the museum, has something of the Dumbledore about him. There is also a scene in which the adult Theo dreams he is looking into a mirror and sees his dead mother smiling back at him……a scene which occurs with Harry and his parents in, I think, Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire although more movingly written in the latter. The book is much more than this though.

Tartt examines how a conflation of seemingly random acts can change the course of a life forever; how hurt , when buried, takes over a person’s every act without them ever understanding why and, crucially, how to be happy we must also experience and also learn to embrace sorrow.

Theo eventually does come to see what he can learn from the eponymous goldfinch in the painting he has treasured and hidden all his young life. It has dignity and whilst trapped  by a chain around it’s foot , it faces the world with bravery and beauty.

The book is very long at 771pp and at times it can seem so. I struggled a little with Boris….surely after a childhood and education in the USA he would have learned to speak more than an annoying pidgin (American) English ….however there is no doubt that , at it’s best , this is a tour de force and Theo’s journey stays with you long after you have closed the cover.

Bright Lights Big City by Jay McInerney

Night time skyline NYC

Night time skyline NYC

Another recommendation for my recent trip to New York, BLBC is unusual in that it is entirely written in the third person. First published in 1984 ,it is set in the coke-fulled days of Reaganomics .We never discover the name of the hero,who as the book opens, is reeling from a failed marriage and trying desperately to hang on to his job working in the Orwellian sounding Department of Factual Verification for a prestigious but un-named magazine.

The front pages quotes from The Sun Also Rises : ‘How did you go bankrupt ?’ Bill asked. ‘Two ways,’ Mike said. ‘Gradually and the suddenly.’ And this indeed mirrors your journey through the city streets aided and abetted by your friend Tad Allagash.

The writing at times is highly comic and very reminiscent of Henry Miller particularly when ‘You’ are recounting your struggle to be a writer rather than a lowly fact checker : “You wanted to be Dylan Thomas without the paunch, F. Scott Fitzgerald without the crack up.” or when describing ‘Your’ relationship with Tad…….here is Tad detailing, in a note, the latest blind date he has set up : Described you as cross between young F. Scott-Heminway and the later Wittgenstein, so dress accordingly.  Yrs in Christ, Tad

The book however is more than a very atmospheric and now nostalgic romp through the 1980s with nods to the pop music of the time and the greats of modern American Literature. ‘ You’ are on a similar journey to Holden Caulfield and the final section of the book is raw with the emotion of your real loss . I sobbed as the crisis was reached and the reason for your current breakdown became clear.The book is short , only 174pp, but it packs a massive punch.