Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I've often wondered why anyone would steal a famous painting. What on earth would you be able to do with it? This question was finally answered for me by Theo Decker, the main character in The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt's powerful Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Theo, a thirteen year old New Yorker, experiences a horrible trauma one day when he is visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother. A bomb explodes inside the museum, killing almost everyone. Theo miraculously survives the blast, but is unable to find his mom. As he makes his way out of the smoky debris in shock and confusion, he takes a small painting, The Goldfinch by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius, and carries it with him to safety. As time passes and Theo's shock subsides, he knows that he should return the painting; but he can't seem to find the right time. The Goldfinch eventually appears on a government database of missing masterpieces, and Theo is afraid of getting into trouble. As weeks turn into years, he manages to keep the painting well-hidden. Ultimately, as his life spirals downward into crime and decadence, The Goldfinch becomes Theo’s guilty secret, but also his most precious possession.

It's been a very long time since I came across characters who moved me so deeply. Though The Goldfinch is sometimes sad and often disturbing, I couldn’t rest until I had finished this unforgettable novel and learned what became of Theo. Donna Tartt has an astoundly rich gift for description. Reading Theo’s first person narrative felt as if he were telling his tale directly to me, and wanting me to understand what he had been through.

What could be a more perfect way to spend a cold January night than to immerse yourself in the exciting personal saga of an unlikely art thief? For more books about the power of art to transform us, try Charlotte by David Foenkinos or The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith.

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