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The Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

The plot is a brilliant one: thirteen year old Theo Decker survives a devastating bomb attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in which his mother is killed. In the confusion after the blast an old man dying of his injuries persuades him to take a beautiful 17th C painting that has miraculously survived the explosion - The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius. The old man gives Theo a beautiful signet ring and also whispers the address of an antiques shop in Greenwich Village, which will later become the nucleus of Theoís life. Theo knows the painting well, it being a favourite of his beloved mother. Would he have taken it so easily had it been another painting? We donít know, but The Goldfinch has a strong emotional connection so he conceals it in his coat and the course of his life changes in an instant.

Theo is taken in by the wealthy Upper East Side family of his school friend Andy. The Barbours are a dysfunctional and rather eccentric lot but Mrs Barbour agrees to take Theo as his father canít be found and his grandparentís make it clear they donít want him. The boy settles in to a new life with the Barbours until his reprobate dad appears.

The scene changes dramatically. Theo now finds himself living in Las Vegas with his father and stepmother. He randomly attends school and itís here that he meets Boris a young Russian, a feral child who, lives with his violent father and who introduces Theo to drink and drugs. Now itís here the plot goes a bit awry. I understand Theoís desire for escapism but thereís just too many pharmaceuticals going in and too much vomit coming out for this reader. Life with dad isnít great (understatement) and when life deals Theo another blow he makes his way back to New York.

Now Theo settles down in relative stability with Hobie, the colleague of the old man who died in the museum, and with Pippa, another survivor of the museum attack who was with the old man that day Ė and with whom Theo is enthralled. Life goes on. Theo turns the antique shopís fortunes round and things seem to be going well until an article in the newspaper leaves him stunned. The story now moves to Amsterdam and takes on a momentum of its own careering off into an action adventure involving yet more drugs, Russian hoods, hustlers and underworld art thieves.

This book has hugely divided opinion among the literati and itís easy to understand why. Itís a book of many parts some highly literary - thereís more than a nod to Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Edith Wharton, Woody Allen and others. It also has a fairytaleĖlike quality at times but in some places itís just simply boysí action adventure. And sometimes itís just downright infantile. But! Itís a really terrific story. So, grab your duvet, get in some ready meals and settle down for a twenty first century epic. You wonít be leaving the sofa any time soon. Did I mention that itís 864 pages long?

Published by Abacus, 864pp

Irene Haynes


Did any of you hear, on Radio 4 yesterday, a list of books people had not read to the end? The Goldfinch was one of them. Sadly there werent any reasons given. I still havent finished it- just lost interest in the characters, too much going on, too many areas/issues touched on. She could write other books about any one of them and dealt with them in depth rather than sketching and abandoning. I could go on.

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