Oddly, this season alone, several great writers have released very long books, including the previously reviewed and much admired Elizabeth Gilbert, and Donna Tartt at 770 pages [the Booker winner Luminaries tops the chart at 880!]
For those of you also fans of Tartt's first novel "The Secret History" released twenty years ago, her just third novel is long awaited and has received mostly positive reviews. Thus, as the days grow shorter and winds pick up, seemed a good time to curl up on the couch with a great big book.
It is truly big, not only in heft but in depth of human experience. A few characters dominate the narrative and they are all a captivating. My favorite: Boris, a ne’er do well Russian émigré, dark at heart but light of spirit, whose voice is pitch-perfect and often hilarious and shows up at the oddest and most essential moments.
However this novel is about Theo, orphaned at thirteen when a bomb blast rocks the Metropolitan Museum and in an odd twist of fate ends up walking away with a famous painting, The Goldfinch, by the Dutch painter, Carel Fabritius. You may remember the little gem: a golden bird chained at one leg to his perch. Ah, a metaphor is born.
Theo, chained to the memory of his mother’s tragic death, survivor guilt, the post-traumatic stress that ensues, to his self-serving, gambling-addicted father, and to loneliness. And, as it turns out, chained to the painting itself, which serves as both anchor and tormentor, and ultimately salvation.
Tartt’s descriptive prose is scintillating. Many scenes, occasionally too long, and dialogues, also occasionally too long, nonetheless enthrall the reader, as we move through a decade of Theo’s personal apocalypse. Through drug and alcohol-ridden escapades, thugs, well-meaning socialites, unrequited love, lost hopes, lost loved ones, and ultimate redemption, Tartt now and then slips an allusion to Dickens, as if the reader were not already aware that this novel is an homage to Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, among others.
I loved Dickens for the same reason that I so much appreciated this book – for the detail and the vividness of characters. We take the journey with them. Tartt peppers the narrative with profound observances related to relationships and the supremacy of friendship and concludes with some mighty fine existential stream of consciousness. She also deftly illuminates the weaknesses of the social services system, and the adult failure to fully understand the mind of an adolescent, as well as the human kindnesses that occasionally make up for that.
Curl up on the couch reading, for sure, but make sure to buckle your seatbelt, because the trip from NYC to Las Vegas to Amsterdam and back again is a wild ride, bumpier and faster than you might imagine and worth your time.