Monday, August 25, 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I've only had the book a few months, but already it looks like somebody put it through a garbage disposal.  That should show you how well-loved it is already.

So it won the Pulitzer, and so that should be enough.  But really, and as much as this word is a complete cop-out, it’s utterly amazing.

Tartt first came on the literary scene with The Secret History in 1992, and followed up with The Little Friend in 2002.  The Goldfinch came out last year (2013).  Are you noticing a pattern?  The woman takes ten years to write a book, a thing that’s quite unique in this era of “publish or perish.”  (Actually, some of the first sketches of the book date back as far as 1993!)  Tartt virtually refuses to be a slave to the publishing machine, giving few interviews or readings, and generally bowing out of the promotions side of book sales.  She’s not even on Twitter and largely lets the work speak for itself.  What?

Anyway, the story itself is great and her characters positively transcendent.  In terms of plot:  It is laden with bad decisions and terrible situations and hard drugs and art and esoteric shit about furniture restoration (which, really, were some of my favorite bits, because I’m like, ALL IN when it comes to esoteric shit nobody knows anything about.  I mean, all that restoration stuff could’ve been one hundred percent made up and I’d be like, “Great.  Love it anyway.”  Moving on.)  The centerpoint of the novel is an actual painting entitled “The Goldfinch” by Fabritius, who Tartt describes as “the missing link between Rembrandt and Vermeer.”  Not to give too much away:  The painting survives an explosion in New York City (shades of 9/11) and then moves through the novel as a talisman to Theo, the main character.  And if you want more than that, you’ll have to read it. 

But here’s the BEAUTY.

Boris is the best-drawn character I’ve EVER READ.  Ever.  Ever. 

He’s compared to Dickens’ artful dodger, and he is so real he throbs.  He moves; he tears up the pages and walks into your living room.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever had as much of an experience of character-LOSS as I had at the end of this novel – HE WAS THAT REAL. 

And if that isn’t enough, Tartt herself has been compared both to Tolstoy and Dickens themselves.  The woman is only fifty and has only three books to her name, but you can’t read a review of her work without seeing yet another comparison to those behemoths.  (Tartt admits to being raised on a steady diet of Dickens and recognizes that she’s internalized his style.  Also, she loves the comparison.  “Who wouldn’t?” she asks.)

A couple of asides.  During my mourning of the book’s end, I scoured the internet and found a couple of amazing things about this novel that are just so cool I had to share. 

One:  The actual painting “The Goldfinch” really did survive an explosion back in 1654, in Delft, yet Tartt didn’t even realize this until after she wrote her own explosion scenes in the novel.  Read more here.

Two:  The original publication of the novel coincided to the day with an art show opening at Manhattan’s Frick Collection.  (This was not intentionally orchestrated.)  And guess which painting was included in the exhibition?  Yep.  More here.

Basically, STOP EVERYTHING YOU’RE DOING AND READ THIS RIGHT NOW.  It’s in my top ten all-time list.  (OMG, that’s a total blog post.  Sarah’s Top Ten.  What’s in yours?)