Donna Tartt does not rush things. Her third book surfacing after an eleven year wait, this is an expansive novel filled with impeccably placed detail and a slow and measured pace that gives the characters room to breathe and come to life.
Tartt starts the novel like so many things do, with a bang. An explosion in an art gallery leaves twelve year old Theo wandering shell-shocked through the dust and silence in search of his mother. What he does find is a dying old man, who gives him a ring and an address to take it to, as well as imploring him to save a beautiful old painting – the titular Goldfinch by Fabritius. After leaving the debris of the gallery, he discovers his mother has died, and thus begins the first of his upheavals. He spends some time with living with the slightly cold and status obsessed Park-Avenue-dwelling family of an old school friend before being plucked and dumped into the semi-vacant Las Vegas home of his estranged and ex-alcoholic father, all the while hiding the beautiful painting – the last emotional tie to his mother. The two main influences on his life are Hobie, the business partner of the man killed in the blast, who teaches Theo about antiques in New York and takes him under his wing; and Boris, a charming but wild school friend in Vegas who introduces Theo to the numbing effects of drink, drugs and crime. The second half of the book has the burnt out Theo as a young man dealing forged antiques and drifting through life, before being pulled into something much larger than himself as a direct consequence of The Goldfinch.
Tartt has a stunning way of describing things and pulling you in, in particular the icy and numb post-blast world of the gallery, the drifting and stretching experiments with substances in Vegas and an almost Trainspotting-esque account of withdrawal and emotional pain as Theo attempts to sort himself out. The twin fates of The Goldfinch and Theo are beautifully linked, as the Goldfinch itself escaped the explosion that killed its painter. Nothing is rushed, no thought is brushed under the carpet. Because of its length, you have time to really get inside Theo’s head and come to understand his fears, dreams and past. People should not be put off by its intimidating size – this is a rich world you will want to stay in for as long as possible, and at no point does it feel like it’s dragging. It’s a remarkable slab that does that very rare thing – it makes you feel like another person for a short while. Utterly stunning and thoroughly engaging.