The Goldfinch (novel)
|Cover artist||Carel Fabritius
The Goldfinch - 1654
|Published||September 23, 2013|
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company|
|Media type||Print, e-book, audiobook|
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; almost his entire oeuvre was destroyed in the Delft explosion of 1654, in which Fabritius was killed.
The Goldfinch is told in retrospective first-person narration by Theodore "Theo" Decker, who recounts the story of his life thus far. As a thirteen-year-old boy in New York City, Theo adores his energetic, beautiful mother—as do many other people in Manhattan. He thinks of his father, who had walked out on them a year earlier, as an alcoholic, abusive thief. 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 falls in love at first sight 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. The taking of these items (one a family heirloom handed over freely, the other a priceless and famous artwork) is done by Theo in a state of terror, concussion and shock, and he has no understanding of how these seemingly minor actions will influence the rest of his life.
Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo lives with a school friend, Andy Barbour, and his wealthy family (Mr. Barbour, a pleasant man as long as he takes his prescribed medication; Mrs. Barbour, a seemingly chilly but kind socialite who likes Theo; Platt, the oldest son, a boarding school bully; Andy, 14, a genius nerd; Kitsey, 9, "a candyfloss Disney Princess"; and Toddy, the youngest). Theo lives in the Barbours’ elegant Park Avenue apartment for several months and is fairly happy there (despite his continuing nightmares and posttraumatic stress disorder). Unbeknownst to the Barbours, Theo 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, who was injured in the bombing and is being sent to live with an aunt in Texas. Theo feels an intense bond with her but fears he will never see her again.
Theo's life with the Barbours is disrupted when his deadbeat dad, Larry Decker, arrives with his new girlfriend, Xandra, and whisks him away to Las Vegas. Theo secretly brings the painting, afraid to tell anyone about it for fear he will get in trouble.
In Las Vegas, Theo feels rootless and his father and Xandra make little effort at parenting. His father earns a living and pays for a large home outside Vegas with gambling wins. At school, 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 alcohol, feeding themselves from shoplifted store groceries, using marijuana and other illegal drugs, talking from night to dawn, and giving friendship to Popper, Xandra's neglected Maltese puppy.
Over time, Theo's father starts to become more friendly and even asks for Theo's social security number in order to open a savings account to help him in the future. But it later becomes apparent that his father has ulterior motives—he is in debt to a crime syndicate and one day begs Theo to phone his mother's lawyer in New York to get access to money she had put aside for Theo's education. The lawyer, Mr. Bracegirdle, smells a rat and refuses to release any funds, indirectly revealing that his father had already tried using Theo's social security number and forging his signature to steal the money. Humiliated and desperate, Theo's father gets drunk and dies in a car crash.
Theo knows he must leave town at once, or be sent to a Nevada care home. He and Boris steal some money and drugs from Xandra. Boris begs him to stay one more day, but Theo wants to return to New York, and his friends, that minute. When his pleas go unheard, Boris kisses Theo and lets him go. He packs his things, including the package containing The Goldfinch, and leaves. After a bus ride across the country, filled with tension because Theo has decided to bring Popper, Theo returns to New York. He sees Mr. Barbour on the street, but Barbour (no longer on his medications), acts wildly and shuns him, so he can think only to go to Hobie's door. Pippa is there, as well as Hobie, and they welcome him and give him a place to stay. Pippa is only visiting, as she is at a school in Switzerland for disturbed girls, and so Theo is forced to say goodbye to her once more.
Theo's narrative now 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 the news is full of stories about the prosecution of thieves who stole from the museum after the bombing, and he is afraid of being accused of theft. He is still in love with Pippa, but she treats him only as a close friend and is living in London with a boyfriend. He has instead formed a relationship with Kitsey Barbour, and they are planning to marry.
Theo has gotten himself into trouble, however. He is addicted to prescribed medications, which he buys on the street. He has saved Hobie from bankruptcy, but has done so by selling fake antiques (which Hobie had made but never intended for sale as antiques). Now, one of those buyers, Lucius Reeve, is attempting blackmail. Reeve has figured out that Theo was in the same museum room with The Goldfinch during the bomb explosion and believes Theo and Hobie know its whereabouts. He threatens Theo with the consequences of revealing this information; Theo is afraid not only for himself but also for letting down the innocent and trusting Hobie.
Theo is racked by guilt and fear over the fakes and The Goldfinch. Then, a series of dramatic events take place in short succession. Theo learns, on the day before their engagement party, that Kitsey has never stopped loving Tom Cable, a criminal teenager with whom Theo attended high school, and they have an inconclusive argument about it. Boris then reappears in Theo's life, now a wealthy man on the proceeds of various dubious and unspecified activities. To Theo's astonishment, Boris reveals that he had stolen The Goldfinch from Theo while they were in high school and swapped it for a textbook of similar weight; 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. The stunned Theo returns home to find Pippa unexpectedly staying there due to a cancelled flight. They go out to see a movie and have dinner, and Theo enjoys his rare time alone with her, even though it is clear by the end of the evening that Pippa feels sympathy for him rather than romantic love.
At Theo and Kitsey's engagement party, Boris suddenly appears with a plan to return The Goldfinch to Theo. The plan involves flying to Amsterdam and meeting with men who are holding the painting. Theo, in a state of panic due to the presence of an associate of Lucius Reeve at the party and his anger over Kitsey's deceptions, agrees to walk out without telling anyone where he is going, leaving Pippa a note saying he loves her and a ludicrously expensive necklace as a Christmas present. In Amsterdam, Boris and his henchmen show up with guns and, at the meeting with the dealers, attack them and steal the painting, dragging the shocked Theo with them. Boris is very pleased with himself, but they are then hunted down by agents of the dealers and in a shootout, 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.
After fleeing the scene, an injured Boris insists on separating, telling the devastated Theo to stay in his Amsterdam hotel. Theo holes up in his hotel room drinking and taking other drugs, afraid police will discover him. His phone dead, worried he is about to be arrested, and unable to travel having left his passport with the vanished Boris, he feels trapped and contemplates suicide. But after several hellish 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 even received a huge reward, which he shares with Theo. Theo returns to New York to face the angry and devastated Hobie, who has learned the full details of Theo's deception selling the fake antiques. Theo explains everything to Hobie, including The Goldfinch, which, Hobie reveals, was Welty's favourite painting, too.
The novel ends with Theo travelling the world to put things right by buying back the fake antiques that he had sold. His engagement to Kitsey is inconclusive, though he remains friendly with the Barbours, and Pippa has told him that she does love him but that their flaws and weaknesses resulting from their traumatic accident made them too similar for them to be safe together. In a lengthy reflection on what he has learned from his experiences, 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".
The Dutch translation of The Goldfinch (Het puttertje) was published a full month before the English edition, to overwhelmingly positive reviews. Daily 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.' Praise also comes from Elsevier notes "Donna Tartt's third novel is worth all the commotion. The master storyteller is back! Het puttertje is superior literary entertainment."  Nederlands Dagblad also commends the writing in the novel, saying "[I]n Donna Tartt's new novel, nothing is just there. Everything is connected in a subtle way, every detail matters. This is a beautifully written tragedy, with some lighter moments."  While Trouw  compares The Goldfinch to The Secret History and The Little Friend—"Donna Tartt's new novel, like her two previous books, is filled with strong emotions and experiences, caused by human interactions and drinking and drug abuse. Tartt writes about these matters in a breathtakingly elegant manner."
A minority of Dutch reviews were more mixed. NRC Handelsblad only 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." 
The Goldfinch was published in English by Little, Brown and Company on October 22, 2013; the Swedish edition also appeared in October, and it is set to be published in over thirty languages across the world. Early reviews from the US praised the novel, with the trade publications Kirkus Reviews and Booklist both giving starred reviews. Kirkus describes The Goldfinch as “a standout”  while Booklist comments “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 has also admired the novel: "Donna Tartt is an amazingly good writer ... it's very good." Further reviews in the U.S. have celebrated The Goldfinch, with Michiko Kakutani praising the Dickensian elements in her rave 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 wrote a laudatory review for Artvoice.com, describing it as a "marvelous, epic tale, one whose 773 beautiful pages say, in short: 'How can we? And yet, we do.'" Brown added, "Major plot points—in fact, every change in the story that matters—are dictated by apparently random chance. But this ostensible arbitrariness cannot be reconciled with the truth; namely, that Theo's life has a poetic trajectory, that he is often saved in one way or another, that a chance convenient meeting on the street can (and does, several times) forever alter his existence." Brown concluded, "This novel is an extraordinary achievement, one completely bereft of any vanity on the part of the author or anything apart from the demands that truly great fiction makes on its vessel."
The novel has been an international bestseller, spending 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 has had the same success in translation, debuting at number one for Editions Plon in France in January 2014 where it was also critically acclaimed by Le Monde as "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 raving "Comic and tragic, cruel and tender, intimate and vast, Le Chardonneret is one of those rare novels that require cancelling any social obligation." In Italy, Rizzoli has reprinted fifteen times since its March 2014 publication and the novel climbed to number ten on the bestseller lists there.
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, "Its 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."
Awards and honors
The Goldfinch was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014. 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. 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.
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