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Gripping - but...
on 16 April 2018
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
Up to around page 730 (!) I found this novel extremely absorbing and drawing me in to the narrative, wanting keenly to know the result of several loose ends. These were: would there be a triumphant ‘comeuppance’ as between Theo and Lucius Reeve? (no), What would the outcome be between Pippa, Everett and Theo and Kitsey, Pippa and Theo? What would become of the painting? How would the relationship between the tragic Mrs Barbour and Theo end? How would Theo’s relationship with Hobie be finalised?
Most of these were in fact answered but only as relatively minor references that were overwritten by rather obscure and subjective philosophical views about the purpose or uses of art from about page 730 to the end (page 771). So my rather unsophisticated expectations of what was in part a bildungsroman novel and a crime novel were left somewhat let down by the author’s attempt at literary ‘depth’.
Perhaps the most compelling relationships were between Theo and the Barbour family, especially as between Andy, Mrs Barbour, Pratt and Kitsey; and as between Theo, his father and Xandra. The relationship between Theo and Boris, while clearly a strong and close one was also, in my view, somewhat tiresome. This was partly because I could not relate to one who was such a child of the cult of addiction and his further malign influence over and development of Theo’s own tendency towards the same, and partly because of his frequently awkward English expressions and use of Russian or Ukrainian phrases etc. However, all these characters were, I think, very vividly drawn.
In terms of suspense and excitement the novel maintained a high level though this was often interspersed (held up) with lengthy and tedious descriptions of the effects on Theo (especially) of his drug-taking and alcohol abuse.
As to thematic structure the novel has, in my view, two main ideas: first that of what the goldfinch painting signifies – its tragic captivity which is parallel to some extent with the mental or metaphorical captivity of Theo, tied to his possession of the picture which he cannot find a way of freeing himself from by returning it without being arrested. Secondly, the theme of fate or chance, seen as a soulless governor of life in general and showing itself intermittently in specific ways: first, of course, as the museum explosion that randomly kills Theo’s very warm and attractive mother and Pippa’s uncle ‘Welty’ Blackwell; injures Pippa yet preserves the fragile painting and Theo; secondly in the sudden whisking away by Theo’s father to Vegas – a man whose life is totally governed by chance as he is a gambler…
There is a host of minor characters which create a strong sense of New York elite as well as of the criminal world both in New York and Amsterdam and the scenes set in the vicinity of Vegas section of the novel also seem realistic.
A gripping book overall, but not without its longueurs.