While I was still in Amsterdam, waiting for the press conference that would launch my new novel, I found myself overcome by an inwrought fairytale sense of doom. By day, beside the Rijksmuseum, ruddy-cheeked Dutch women rolled huge cheeses across the square, while young boys in red breeches skated happily down the frozen canal. Yes, the Pieter Breughel reproduction in my hotel room made for a pleasanter view than the seedy stoner cafe I could see outside my window, where only an hour before I had scored a 350mg rock of Longwindopan. I could now feel its polychrome opiate haze seeping through my senses, with the same drowsy numbness a reader might feel after several hundred pages of almost plotless narrative.
Through the rainbow's edge of the drug, I fancied I could see the eyes of Joseph, my adopted father, long-dead now, yet somehow staring at me through the bathroom mirror with his characterisic mix of amusement and exasperation. What would Joseph say about my book, if only he knew? It was in Joseph's carpentry workshop that, as a child, I had learned the art of refurbishing second-hand religious symbols. An arm from here, a leg from there, and with skill and craft he could fake up something that looked wholly original - which I would then sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars to Wall Street traders; retired couples living upstate; upper West Side patriarchs; new-money Russians; unsuspecting publishers; in fact anyone I could add to the list after another semi-colon.
And, after the explosion at the New York Public Library, it was Joseph's craft that gave me the idea. No-one had seen me escape from the blast with a pile of half-destroyed classics under my arm: scraps of Tolstoy; shreds of Dostoyevsky; huge chunks of Dickens. For years I kept them hidden from view in a pillowcase. Then, slowly at first, they began to merge together as 'The Goldfinch': the disputed inheritance; the wild, soulful Russian idiot; the slow, tortuously-plotted quest for redemption; and of course Pippa, of whom I had great expectations. And how could you call it plagairaism when I stole with such love? In this unfolding, inescapable catastrophe we call life, in the end perhaps all that can connect us with the sublime and the infinite is love - and theft.
In my hotel room the Dutch language newspapers are spread out in front of me. The meaning of their reviews of my book - doordringen; vervelend; afstompen - remains tantalisingly just beyond the reach of my comprehension. A vapour rolls before me, and I find myself crying, howling like a lost puppy, longing for my editor. If only he were still alive, it could all have been so different.
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