864 pages, The Goldfinch is not a short story, there’s something of the Charles Dickens in this book, and Donna Tartt takes an extra page to thank hundreds of other folk. I looked for my name in vain. Not there. I suppose that’s payback. I read The Secret History, but can’t remember much about it. It’s nothing personal – Donna Tartt uses extended hyphen clauses like this quite often, parenthesis, like a screenwriter centring the action, before dialogue – because I don’t remember much of what I read. That’s why I’m writing this down so I don’t forget how much I enjoyed this book. It really is a page turner and had me sitting up well after my 8pm bedtime.
If you flick to the last chapter, where everything is tied up beautifully with a big red bow, with Theo, the narrator, like Pip in Great Expectations out to make amends, older and wiser than his younger and foolish adolescent self, there’s lots of stuff about ‘transubstantiation’ and ‘sorrow inseparable from joy’, and it’s all tied in with art and life, then if you’re like me you’d probably think that’s for the birds. But ‘significance doesn’t matter’ what matters is the story and this is a great story.
Speak, so I can see, as some old Greek guy supposedly said. Here the characters are up and running. Mr Pip’s great love is Estelle, and Theo’s great love is Pippa, both of them are tied together by being blown up, and their recovery is never quite a recovery, but a haunting of what might have been, running through their damaged lives. It’s rich man, poor man territory, and when Theo’s dad comes to take him to live with him in the underbelly of Las Vegas, the reader is shown a full-frontal of what can and does happen. The Goldfinch, that stolen painting by Fabriutus—who was also inexplicably blown up and killed in 1640—becomes here a bit of background noise, but as a plot device it turns the narrative one way then another, with the dexterity of sinewy wings. In Vegas we meet Boris. Boris is genius and Boris is a genius. Even Dickens at his best, with a watery Abel Magwitch, would find it difficult to characterise someone so perfectly Boris.
But it’s New York in the sanctuary of Hobie’s workshop and home—listen to that name, how is sings, think old Joe, Pip’s surrogate father, the trusty blacksmith that makes things and could not do a wrong, even if it was right—that Pippa and Theo begin to heal. They’re wrenched apart. The whole premise of what happened and why is Theo’s extended love song to Pippa so she might understand who he is and why he came to be what he is. That longing, as the Goldfinch longs for freedom but its ankle is tethered by a silver halter, is a kind of mirroring. This book takes to the air. Oh, dear, I couldn’t resist saying that. I talk too much, but so you can see. But as Theo—and guess the author Donna Tartt—keeps banging on about we all see different, we all read differently and we all—