Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Goldfinch, was inarguably the “It novel” of 2013. The novel follows the story of Theo Decker, whose life is violently changed and his mother killed by a terrorist attack in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Somehow, Theo manages to get out on his own, and make off with Carel Fabritius’s 1654 masterpiece, the Goldfinch, on behest of a dying old man. According to himself, these events are the turning point of his life. Over the next 14 years, the trauma of losing his mother at a tender age, and the burden of desperately clinging on to the painting as a last connection to her prove to be too much for him to handle, resulting in an unpredictable chain of events that leaves the reader astonished and amazed.
Everything that happens to Theo after that day seems to bear a stamp of that moment. His mother’s absence is sensed in his every thought, as a posttraumatic teenage wastoid, and as a cunning salesman in the antique-selling business. Moreover, the painting becomes a black-hole that swallows the future he could have had, as well as a secret that sets him apart from everyone else. He becomes obsessed with it, both because of its representation of his loss and his sharp eye for beauty, a trait he had inherited from his mother.
In my opinion, despite its tremendous plot and Tartt’s undeniably admirable skill in characterization and detailed imagery, The Goldfinch is not a perfect book. The main character, Theo Decker, seems too “typical” in comparison to the colorful and unique secondary characters. So much so that it makes the reader wonder why don’t these interesting people ditch Theo and hang out with each other. Characters such as Pippa and Hobie who play important roles in Theo’s coming of age, or the wonderfully weird Boris, who is without a doubt one of the best fictional characters I’ve read about, set the bar quite high for every other character that appears in the book. In addition, Tartt’s final passage sends a message that the simplest form of immortality achieved by humankind lies within our love for and creation of artworks. Even though this is a statement I truly believe in, seven hundred pages of relentless plot and character development seem a tad too much to read to be taught something so simple.
Overall, the novel is worth a read or even two. Tartt’s Dickensian approach to the story is simply marvelous and her dedication to her characters is evident through the fact that she does not just use them to advance the plot, but also to make the main character learn and grow through meeting them. These qualities, I believe, more than make up for the mildly bland main character and the valuable, but not-so-important lesson it strives to teach. The Goldfinch is not the perfect book, and it may not even be one that passes the test of time, but it is in every respect, a distinctive one.