The last time I read a book about art, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Swan Thieves, I was very much disappointed. From her stellar debut in The Historian, Kostova duped me into buying a long book about art and all of its complicated and high-brow terms that were lost on me. I was very disappointed and for a time decided not to pick up any book about art or the art world. When news of Donna Tartt’s new novel came up, this being the first time I heard of her, and the rave reviews that her novel was getting, maybe it was time to try it out again. Maybe it was time for me to explore the art world without the boring narratives and the long drawn discussions of brush strokes, textures and hues that made Kostova’s book a big disappointment and one for the throwaway pile.
Unlike the Swan Thieves, the Goldfinch is certainly not a book about art or the complexities of it. Rather the book explores the life and times of its main character, Theodore “Theo” Decker and how his encounter with Fabritius’s eponymous painting changes his life. The story begins in medias res in Amsterdam and quickly spirals into a long narrative of how the main character got to Amsterdam and came to be. Along the way, the narrative explores the theme of friendship, dysfunctional families, death and throws in drunken binges and vivid descriptions of recreational drug use. After having exhausted over 400 pages or so, the novel exhausts another 400 pages exploring the trials and travails Theo has to go through for the sake of the painting.
At the very least, Tartt’s novel is a long drawn autobiography of a fictional character, it is also not a book about art. Its art is hidden in such a way a painting would have a profound effect and influence on its owner, much like how the paintings we see today have a lasting effect on its viewers. At over 962 pages, the novel is long and many parts of it were quite dragging. There came a point in my experience that I simply wanted to put down the book and move on to another. Theo Decker’s life was pointless and irrelevant to me. Three quarters of the book were devoted to his mundane life and his constant philosophical arguments with his friend Boris. At some point the story picked up and got a little bit interesting, but at the height of its crescendo it falls flat again into another tiring monologue and stream of thought. Maybe this book just wasn’t for me, maybe I am not supposed to really enjoy books about art or maybe Donna Tartt’s novels are just heavy for me. Whichever reason, I would have to say that I clearly wanted the book to end as quickly and as painless as possible.
The Goldfinch is sold in all major bookstores, it is available in mass market paperback and large formats.