The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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Theo Decker is a 13 year old boy, who ducks into a New York gallery with his ex-model mother on the way to a meeting with his principle about his recent behaviour. But while they’re in the gallery, a bomb explodes, killing his mother and knocking him out. Half concussed, he comforts a stranger who gives him a ring, and urges him to save a painting, the Goldfinch.

Previously a scholarship student with bright prospects, suddenly everything is changed, irrevocably.

Theo doesn’t plan to keep the painting, but as it was one that his mother loved so much, and that they had been discussing right before the bomb went off, Theo finds it impossible to let go of, and one of the prevailing themes of the book is his fear that someone will figure out that he has it and arrest him. At a certain point, that feels obsessive, and there are moments where his weakness really irritated me. It felt a little contrived. Why would anyone figure out that he has it? Why can’t he let it go? Hand it in? Tell anyone?

Theo’s life is pretty tragic, which is the meat of the story. His father has left, leaving no way of contacting him, and because he was an alcoholic, he has not been missed. His grandparents don’t want him. He’s taken in my his best friend Andy’s family, but they can’t keep him forever.

Over the course of his life, things go from awful to tragic, with the painting an anchor, one beautiful thing that’s a constant but also a source of constant anxiety.

It’s very well written, and quite an intense and beautiful book in places. I think many of you will like it, but I ,… well, I appreciated the writing, but it’s really long and parts of it didn’t feel psychologically real to me. For example, at one point Theo says that he has PTSD and takes some medication for it, but it’s never mentioned earlier, or how the diagnosis was made, nor does he show many symptoms of PTSD. It’s just there for that one sentence, and then gone. It feels like a book about tragedy and loss from someone who is imagining what it’s like on a large scale, having perhaps only experienced it on a small scale.

Read It If: you like a story of art and tragedy, or coming of age, but at this length with little pay off it’s not for everyone.

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