The Goldfinch

By Donna Tartt

(Little, Brown & Co., $30, 784 pages)

Who is this author?

Donna Tartt is a novelist, essayist and critic who was born in the Deep South, in Greenwood, Miss., but was educated in New England, at Bennington College in Vermont. Her earlier novels, “The Secret History” (1992) and “The Little Friend” (2002) were critical and popular hits and have been translated into 30 languages, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s and The Oxford American. Tartt’s fans have been waiting impatiently for over a decade for her next novel, and now it is here.

Why so long a wait? Tartt told the BBC: “I can’t write quickly. If I could write a book a year and maintain the same quality I’d be happy. I’d love to write a book a year but I don’t think I’d have any fans.”

What is this book about?

Tartt is adept at mixing privileged lives with danger and death, and she does it again in “The Goldfinch.” Its central character is Theo Decker, whose life is cruelly upended when he is 13: his mother is killed at work at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art when a bomb goes off. Theo’s father drops out of his life, a friend’s wealthy family takes him in and he eventually becomes part of the underworld of art and fine antiques, throughout keeping possession of, and being emotionally captivated by, a slightly sinister and very valuable Dutch painting called, you guessed it, “The Goldfinch.” It gives his life meaning and also puts him in danger. Tartt has created a compelling character in Theo and in his buddy, Boris, who is one hysterically funny guy, and in the very eccentric Hobie, and she moves the story from Manhattan to Las Vegas and back to New York City.

Why you’ll like it:

Beautiful writing, memorable characters, engaging story: what’s not to like? Tartt seamlessly combines a mystery with a coming-of-age story with a tale of a dysfunctional family with the heartbreak of losing one’s mother early in life with piquant characters with fascinating information on the black market in high-end art and antiques. That should keep any reader satisfied.

What others are saying:

Says Sara Nelson in an Amazon Best Book of the Month, October 2013, review: It’s hard to articulate just how much–and why–The Goldfinch held such power for me as a reader.  Always a sucker for a good boy-and-his-mom story, I probably was taken in at first by the cruelly beautiful passages in which 13-year-old Theo Decker tells of the accident that killed his beloved mother and set his fate. But even when the scene shifts–first Theo goes to live with his schoolmate’s picture-perfect (except it isn’t) family on Park Avenue, then to Las Vegas with his father and his trashy wife, then back to a New York antiques shop–I remained mesmerized. Along with Boris, Theo’s Ukrainian high school sidekick, and Hobie, one of the most wonderfully eccentric characters in modern literature, Theo–strange, grieving, effete, alcoholic and often not close to honorable Theo–had taken root in my heart.  Still, The Goldfinch is more than a 700-plus page turner about a tragic loss: it’s also a globe-spanning mystery about a painting that has gone missing, an examination of friendship, and a rumination on the nature of art and appearances. Most of all, it is a sometimes operatic, often unnerving and always moving chronicle of a certain kind of life. “Things would have turned out better if she had lived,” Theo said of his mother, fourteen years after she died. An understatement if ever there was one, but one that makes the selfish reader cry out: Oh, but then we wouldn’t have had this brilliant book! –

In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani says: …dazzling…a novel that pulls together all [Ms. Tartt's] remarkable storytelling talents into a rapturous, symphonic whole and reminds the reader of the immersive, stay-up-all-night pleasures of reading…It’s a work that shows us how many emotional octaves Ms. Tartt can now reach, how seamlessly she can combine the immediate and tactile with more wide-angled concerns…Ms. Tartt is adept at harnessing all the conventions of the Dickensian novel—including startling coincidences and sudden swerves of fortune—to lend Theo’s story a stark, folk-tale dimension as well as a visceral appreciation of the randomness of life and fate’s sometimes cruel sense of humor…But it’s not just narrative suspense that drives this book; it’s Theo and Boris, the stars of this enthralling novel, who will assume seats in the great pantheon of classic buddy acts (alongside Laurel and Hardy, Vladimir and Estragon, and Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon), taking up permanent residence in the reader’s mind.

In The New York Times Book Review,Stephen King says: “The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind. I read it with that mixture of terror and excitement I feel watching a pitcher carry a no-hitter into the late innings. You keep waiting for the wheels to fall off, but in the case of The Goldfinch, they never do…Surprisingly few novelists write well of grief, but Tartt—whose language is dense, allusive and so vivid it’s intoxicating—does it as well as it can be done…The Goldfinch is a triumph with a brave theme running through it: art may addict, but art also saves us from “the ungainly sadness of creatures pushing and struggling to live.” Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction. “

Publishers Weekly says:  “Donna Tartt’s latest novel clocks in at an unwieldy 784 pages. The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum that kills narrator Theo Decker’s beloved mother and results in his unlikely possession of a Dutch masterwork called The Goldfinch. Shootouts, gangsters, pillowcases, storage lockers, and the black market for art all play parts in the ensuing life of the painting in Theo’s care. With the same flair for suspense that made The Secret History (1992) such a masterpiece, The Goldfinch features the pulp of a typical bildungsroman—Theo’s dissolution into teenage delinquency and climb back out, his passionate friendship with the very funny Boris, his obsession with Pippa (a girl he first encounters minutes before the explosion)—but the painting is the novel’s secret heart. Theo’s fate hinges on the painting, and both take on depth as it steers Theo’s life. …there’s a bewitching urgency to the narration that’s impossible to resist. Theo is magnetic, perhaps because of his well-meaning criminality. The Goldfinch is a pleasure to read; with more economy to the brushstrokes, it might have been great. “

When is it available?

Look for “The Goldfinch” at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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