I haven't read any of Donna Tartt's books before even though her name was known to me and her books turned up on different lists that I liked. So many books, so little time, that is my only excuse.
So, I was happy when my online Pulitzer Prize book club decided to read the latest award winner, this one, "The Goldfinch".
Apparently, it took the author seven years to write this enormous book, stretching over 770 pages in the hardcover and 880 in the paperback edition. For someone like me, who loves a chunky book, that is just the right size. It spans over two continents and more than a decade and describes the trials and tribulations of a boy who grows up under extraordinary conditions. The protagonist of this book is not just thirteen year old Theo Decker but also a painting by Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt and teacher of Vermeer, quite a biography. This also makes it a great book about art and how to understand it but that is just a side effect. One of many.
The book is a wonderful account of friendship and endurance. But it isn't a "happy" book, lots of difficulties occur in Theo's life. It is as much a dark book as an uplifting one. As usual, I try not to give away too much about the contents of the novel but would like to encourage everyone to pick up this book and read it. It's worth it.
It is beautifully written, I really liked the language, it's a brilliant story with memorable characters, each and every one of them could have been the hero of the story and each and every one of them has quite an influence on Theo.
We also have almost every topic in this novel, family, friendship, love, hate, life, death, feelings, remorse, guilt, redemption, you name it, it's probably in it. What I especially liked was the philosophical side, the pondering about the meaning of life. I think that is what impressed me most.
Quotes from the book:
"But depression wasn't the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh, isn’t he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hells awaited them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that, sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent …"
"... I don't care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here's the truth: life is catastrophe. The basic fact of existence - of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends and whatever else we do - is catastrophe. Forget all this ridiculous 'Our Town' nonsense everyone talks: the miracle of a newborn babe, the joy of one simple blossom, Life You Are Too Wonderful To Grasp, &c. For me -- and I'll keep repeating it doggedly till I die, till I fall over on my ungrateful nihilistic face and am too weak to say it: better never born, than born into this cesspool. Sinkhole of hospital beds, coffins, and broken hearts. No release, no appeal, no 'do-overs' to employ a favored phrase of Xandra's, no way forward but age and loss, and no way out but death. ..."
From the back cover: "Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld.
As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love - and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph - a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate."
Donna Tartt received the Pulitzer Prize for "The Goldfinch" in 2014.