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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch
By Donna Tartt
Little, Brown and Company

“if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is a story of a painting that makes its way into a young thirteen-year-old boy’s life. And it does under the saddest of circumstances. Theo Decker, is orphaned when a bomb attack in a museum takes the life of his mother. Miraculously, the explosion doesn’t harm him, well not physically anyway. His last memory of his mother is in the museum’s hall where the old Dutch masters are being showcased; she’s fondly enlightened him with one of her favourites Fabritius's The Goldfinch – "the smallest in the exhibition and the simplest".

As is with anyone who is faced with such a horrific tragedy, it is inevitable that it shapes the rest of his or her life. Theo is no exception.

“Sometimes in the night, I woke up wailing. The worst thing about the explosion is how I carried it in my body – the heat, the bone-jar and slam of it. In my dreams there was always a light way out and a dark way out. I had to go the dark way, because the bright way was hot and flickering with fire. But the dark way was where the bodies were.”

At 800 pages, this will at times feel like an endless novel. On an iPad The Goldfinch is close to 1300 pages. But it’s a remarkable book that compels you to keep turning the page.

The feeling I got about quarter way through the book was that I was living the story in real time. Seriously, once ensconced I was living Theo Decker’s life, minute by minute. And if that was Donna Tartt’s intention, she has done a remarkable job. This isn’t a book for those with a limited attention span, who flip through a book, and love to put another check on their “Read” box. If you are patient enough to make it through the middle zone, there is a payoff to the end. It isn’t a liturgical work but there is a lesson learned of sorts.

Who knew one painting could instill so much conversation? American artist Barnett Newman said “Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds” In The Goldfinch we have a remarkably simple painting of a bird that is the gateway to appreciate a simply remarkable book: engaging art always has a way of taking us on that journey, doesn’t it?

“a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the minds and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular. Yours, yours. I was painted for you.”


  1. It was about a third of the way in when I realized that I was completely engaged with the story. I liked it well enough until then, but at a certain point I recognized that I was well-and-truly-hooked. When it was done, I was bereft. For days afterward, I wanted to know what was happening in those lives (I don't want to name names, because it's spoiler-y,b ut you will know which characters I mean).

  2. I know what you mean. Even though it's long the book does hook you. Thanks for posting your thoughts.

  3. Hope the movie adaptation does it justice. I suspect it won't.

    1. In most cases, I've rarely found a movie adaptation to stay true to a novel. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, a movie adaptation is usually entrusted to a screenplay writer, rather than the author. You may argue that there are both pros and cons to this. Secondly, I imagine it would be quite difficult to fit everything in a book a big as The Goldfinch into a 2-1/2 hr movie. It remains to see if Warner Brothers will be able to deliver a painting that touches the hearts of its audience, the way the book did.


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