When I picked up this book, after randomly seeing it in photos of favourite books over the past couple years, I was intrigued by the seal indicating its award winning status. I’ve never been a person who is super intentional about the prestige of literary awards, and as I cracked this hefty book open, I remember wondering if I would be able to actually read a difference… if I would notice something in the style of writing that sets this apart from others (something other than just lofty philosophical ideas). Can you tell a Pulitzer Prize winner from the latest fluffy best seller?
Yes. Yes you can.
Tartt’s ability to paint a picture with her descriptions is other-worldly. It was never done in a ‘trying-too-hard’ way, but in a way that had me pause on several occasions to think, ‘wow, that’s a beautiful phrase’, or ‘wow, I can completely picture that’.
The story is about Theo, a boy who loses his mother in a terrorist attack on an art gallery in New York. He survives the blast, and before he stumbles from the rubble of the gallery, an elderly man implores him to save The Goldfinch, a masterpiece painting. In his disoriented shock, Theo does take the painting and hides it. It becomes his obsession, a beautiful tie to the last day he spent with his mother – made even more special by it being a painting she loved.
Theo finds himself alone in his grief and trauma, first dumped on the doorstep of a classmate – a wealthy and somewhat cold family, where he doesn’t seem to fit in, despite their attempts to welcome him. Just when things start to take a turn towards feeling comfortable, his deadbeat father (who had previously run out on Theo and his mom) returns to whisk him off to Vegas where he lives with his addict girlfriend. My heart broke for Theo as he tries to make a new life in a family that doesn’t deserve him. It’s a home of neglect, drugs, gambling, and zero parenting. While trying to make the best of his life, he makes a friend named Boris (also suffering from a severe lack of parental involvement… unless you count drunken beatings from his father), who becomes not only his closest friend, but also his doorway into drinking, drugs, and petty crime.
Eventually Theo finds himself back in New York, working in the antiques shop that was once co-owned by the old man who had implored him to rescue The Goldfinch. His past trauma, his addictions, his pain, plus his new career lead him into some shady antique dealing and other crimes.
I couldn’t put this book down, both because it’s beautifully written, but also the suspense of the story itself. At almost 800 pages, it wasn’t the quickest read to start off 2020, but it was totally worth it.