Don’t let the size and weight of Donna Tartt’s 771 page novel, The Goldfinch, put you off. My first reaction was “Oh Lord, how will I ever hold this, much less read it?” until I discovered that this novel does not need to be pried open page by page, but actually falls open to whatever page you might be reading. Unless you are a discus thrower, however, don’t try to hold and read this book, prop it up on something sturdy and let unravel itself.
That said, the book’s explosive opening – the terrorist bombing of a New York City museum—sucked me into the story. Carel Fabritius’ masterpiece, The Goldfinch, survives the blast (as it did in 1654 when a gunpowder factory next to the artist’s studio, exploded, killing the artist. Also surviving is a thirteen year old boy, Theo, whose mother dies in the explosion. Theo awakens from the concussive power of the bombing buried in debris along with an old man who points to the dust-covered painting and pleads with Theo to save it. Before dying, he gives Theo a ring and babbles a name and tells him to ring the green bell. What begins as a surreal journey from devastation and loss, gathers momentum as Tartt thrusts us into future, pursuing Toby and the painting through years of suspense, terror and heartache.
While I'd have liked to read The Goldfinch straight through, it’s size demanded I stop more often than I wished. Tartt's eclectic cast of characters leap from page to life: Hobie, the gentle restorer of antique furniture under whose tutelage Toby learns the trade; Toby’s brilliant but gambling addicted father who drags him to Las Vegas where Toby befriends Boris--a Russian teen whose presence throughout much of the book drove me nuts with his unbridled euphoric, eccentric, and peripatetic personality. And then there’s the painting, both treasure and tyrant that drives the story to its violent yet satisfying conclusion.
The book was at least 100 pages too long and I had more than my fill of drug and alcohol abuse running rampant throughout the book -- from Las Vegas onward. Would I read it again? Perhaps? It’s an amazing, complex, plausible, and gripping and wondrously written hulk of a novel. I wonder if you feel the same way.