The Goldfinch (novel)
The Goldfinch - 1654
|Published||September 23, 2013|
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company|
|Media type||Print, e-book, audiobook|
The Goldfinch is the third novel by American author Donna Tartt. Published in 2013, it was Tartt's first novel since the publication of The Little Friend in 2002. The Goldfinch won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, among other honors.
The novel is a Bildungsroman told in the first person by Theodore Decker who, at the age of 13, survives a terrorist bombing at an art museum in which his beloved mother dies. Staggering out through the debris, he takes with him a small, Dutch Golden Age painting, The Goldfinch, which will serve as a singular source of hope as he descends into a world of crime. The painting is one of the few surviving works by Rembrandt's most promising pupil, Carel Fabritius; nearly all of Fabritius' œuvre was destroyed in the Delft explosion of 1654, in which the artist himself was killed.
The Goldfinch is told in retrospective first-person narration by Theodore "Theo" Decker. As a thirteen-year-old boy in New York City, Theo's life is turned upside down when he and his mother visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see an exhibition of Dutch masterpieces, including a favorite painting, Carel Fabritius's The Goldfinch. There, he becomes infatuated with a red-headed girl who is accompanied by an elderly man. But then a terrorist bomb explodes, killing his mother and other patrons.
In the rubble, Theo encounters the old man, Welton "Welty" Blackwell, who gives him a ring and an enigmatic message before dying. Believing that Welty is pointing at The Goldfinch, Theo takes it during his panicked escape. Alone, Theo lives with a school friend, Andy Barbour, and his wealthy family in their elegant Park Avenue apartment. He carries out the last wishes of Welty and returns the ring to his family, becoming friends with James "Hobie" Hobart, Welty's partner. He also briefly encounters the red-haired girl, Pippa.
Theo's life is disrupted when his deadbeat dad, Larry Decker, arrives with his new girlfriend, Xandra, and whisks him away to Las Vegas. Theo secretly takes the painting. In Las Vegas, Theo makes a new friend, Boris, a cosmopolitan son of a Ukrainian émigré. The two boys both have absentee parents and spend most of their afternoons drinking and using marijuana and other illegal drugs. Theo's father later gets drunk and dies in a car crash. Theo decides to return to New York. He packs his things, including the package containing The Goldfinch, and leaves. In New York he goes to Hobie's. Pippa is there, as well as Hobie, and they welcome him and give him a place to stay.
The narrative then skips ahead eight years. Theo has become a full partner in Hobart's antiques and furniture-repair business. He has concealed The Goldfinch in a storage unit because he is afraid of being accused of theft. He is still in love with Pippa, but she is living in London with a boyfriend. He is engaged to a childhood friend and they are planning to marry. He saves Hobie from bankruptcy by selling fake antiques. One of the buyers attempts blackmail, believing Theo knows the whereabouts of the painting.
Theo is racked by guilt and fear over the fakes and The Goldfinch. Boris reappears in Theo's life, now a wealthy man on the proceeds of various dubious unspecified activities. To Theo's astonishment, Boris reveals that he had stolen The Goldfinch from Theo while they were in high school; the painting has since been used as an object of barter by various criminals and dealers. Boris feels guilty and has devoted himself to recovering the painting and returning it to Theo.
At Theo's engagement party, Boris suddenly appears with a plan to return The Goldfinch. The plan involves flying to Amsterdam and meeting with the dealers who are holding the painting. In Amsterdam, Boris and his henchmen show up with guns and steal the painting, dragging the shocked Theo with them. Boris is shot in the arm and Theo fatally shoots Boris's shooter, while a boyfriend of one of the dealers escapes with the painting.
Theo holes up in his hotel room drinking and taking drugs, afraid police will discover him. He feels trapped and contemplates suicide. After several days, Boris returns, and reveals that he has saved the situation by phoning the art recovery police to inform on the dealers. Not only has the painting been saved for the museum, but Boris has received a huge reward, which he shares with Theo.
In a lengthy reflection, Theo wonders how much of his experiences were unavoidable due to fate or his character. Finally, he contemplates The Goldfinch and of "the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire".
Critical reception was mixed, with some reviewers praising it and others panning it.
Early on, the trade publications Kirkus Reviews and Booklist, both gave the novel starred reviews. Booklist wrote, "Drenched in sensory detail, infused with Theo's churning thoughts and feelings, sparked by nimble dialogue, and propelled by escalating cosmic angst and thriller action, Tartt's trenchant, defiant, engrossing, and rocketing novel conducts a grand inquiry into the mystery and sorrow of survival, beauty and obsession, and the promise of art." Stephen King admired the novel: "Donna Tartt is an amazingly good writer ... it's very good." Michiko Kakutani pointed out the Dickensian elements in a review for The New York Times, commenting "Ms. Tartt has made Fabritius's bird the MacGuffin at the center of her glorious, Dickensian novel, a novel that pulls together all her remarkable storytelling talents into a rapturous, symphonic whole and reminds the reader of the immersive, stay-up-all-night pleasures of reading." Woody Brown in Artvoice.com described it as a "marvelous, epic tale, one whose 773 beautiful pages say, in short: 'How can we? And yet, we do.'"
In mid-2014, Vanity Fair reported that the book had "some of the severest pans in memory from the country's most important critics and sparked a full-on debate in which the naysayers believe that nothing less is at stake than the future of reading itself". James Wood, book critic for The New Yorker, said "[I]ts tone, language, and story belong in children's literature". London Review of Books called The Goldfinch a "children's book" for adults. The Sunday Times of London said "no amount of straining for high-flown uplift can disguise the fact that The Goldfinch is a turkey." The Paris Review said: "A book like The Goldfinch doesn't undo any clichés—it deals in them."
Le Monde called it "a great bewitching novel" with Donna Tartt described as "a novelist at the top of her art" by Le Journal du Dimanche, "masterful" by Télérama and Le Point saying "Comic and tragic, cruel and tender, intimate and vast, Le Chardonneret is one of those rare novels that require cancelling any social obligation."
The Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant printed a five star review and called it "a Bildungsroman written in a beautiful and often scintillating style. (...) A rich novel and an impressive reflection on sadness and solace. And about the crucial, timeless role of art therein". De Limburger and Cutting Edge also gave five star reviews, with De Limburger suggesting "Donna Tartt has written the best novel of 2013. It will completely blow you away."  Another Dutch newspaper, Het Parool, sums it up as a "beautiful, exciting novel, filled with fascinating characters". Belgian weekly magazine HUMO called it the book of the year and the news website NU.nl praised Tartt as a "writing magician who is generous with detours, reflections and characters".
Other Dutch reviews were mixed in their reception. NRC Handelsblad rated the book two out of five stars, writing that it was "like reading a twenty-first-century variant on Dickens", with the characters being "cliché" and not fleshed-out. Vrij Nederland and De Groene Amsterdammer were also critical, arguing that the book was too drawn out. De Telegraaf argues that it is a "rich, very readable novel". This is echoed by Financieele Dagblad's assessment that "Donna Tartt is an extraordinary writer and Het puttertje is a beautiful and rich novel".
Awards and honors
Amazon selected the novel as the 2013 Best Book of the Year. It was shortlisted for 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award and the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. It was awarded the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction for 2014. The book was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review.
The novel spent over thirty weeks on the New York Times bestseller list in the U.S. and on the Sunday Times hardcover fiction bestseller list in the UK. It attained the number one position for Editions Plon in France in January 2014, and in Italy the novel reached number ten on the list of bestsellers. It was a number one bestseller in Finland in June 2014 and in Germany, The Goldfinch reached number two on the Der Spiegel bestseller list.
Warner Bros. and Amazon Studios are adapting the novel into film which will be directed by John Crowley. Ansel Elgort will play the main role of Theo and Aneurin Barnard will play Boris.
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