Defending The Goldfinch

Writer: Teresa Madaleno

So I finally found the time to sit down and read Donna Tartt’s, The Goldfinch and I am glad I did. This book, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize actually came out in 2013 and has been stirring up controversy ever since.

The book has drawn a long list of rave reviews, but it also has its naysayers. For example, the editor of The Paris Review, one of the most highly regarded literary magazines in the world, has been quoted as saying, “A book like The Goldfinch doesn’t undo any clichés –it deals in them.” Another harsh critic referred to the book as “children’s literature”. While I can see that the book does contain a few boilerplates, it should be recognized for what is really is, a story that brings characters alive, a story that touches various emotions, a story that makes you think.

In the aftermath of a terrorist bombing, a young boy named Theo comforts a dying man who points to the small painting, The Goldfinch. The boy takes this as a sign he should grab the painting and leave the rubble behind. His decision to take the painting leads him on a wild coming-of-age journey, complete with eccentric characters and heartache. That small painting becomes a lifeline to Theo, a reminder of his dear mother who was killed in the bombing.

Tartt’s decision to have Theo tell his own story was a way to draw us deeper into the heart and mind of a tortured boy. She manages to craft a tale that allows you to see his soul. Theo Decker is a prime example of a fantasy feeling like reality. You forget when you put down the novel that Theo is not real, but rather a well-crafted character from an author’s imagination.

Theo’s attachment to his mother is as strong as his distaste is for his reckless father. His heartbreak over the loss of his mother is compounded by his concern for the safe keeping of The Goldfinch. Here is an example of Theo telling his own story. He is sick with a fever and dreaming…

“She came up suddenly beside me so I saw her reflection in a mirror. At the sight of her I was paralyzed with happiness; … She was smiling at me, … not a dream but a presence that filled the whole room … I knew I couldn’t turn around, that to look at her directly was to violate the laws of her world and mine; … our eyes met in the glass for a long moment; but just as she seemed about to speak … — a vapor rolled between us and I woke up.”

If you have ever lost someone who means everything to you, then this passage hits home. It is hard to write grief well, but Tartt does it with vivid and intoxicating language.

It’s not all about Theo, Tartt manages to introduce readers to a whole cast of characters that will keep you turning the pages. Even some who have panned the book for it’s far fetched plot, also admit they had difficulty putting it down.

By the way, The Goldfinch, which is a real painting by Carel Faritius, was never stolen. Today the 1654 painting, sits in the Royal Picture Gallery of The Hague. Believe me, if you haven’t read Tartt’s The Goldfinch yet, this little piece of information will do little to spoil the narrative.

Oh, one more note – The Goldfinch is coming to a movie theatre near you. That’s right, it is going to hit the big screen sometime in 2018. That means you have plenty of time to get through the approximately 900 pages of the book before heading to the theatre.